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TIBET – Monasteries Open Their Treasure Rooms –
the exhibition and its book
: A Review

by Michael Henss

December 25, 2007

Museum Villa Hügel, Essen, Germany, August 18 – November 26, 2006;
Museum for East Asian Art, Berlin, February 21 - May 28, 2007

Catalogue publication (German edition under the same title),
edited by Jeong-hee Lee-Kalisch,
664 p., 438 colour and 17 b/w-illustrations, München 2006 (Hirmer Publishing House)

As the title of this exceptional presentation of Tibetan art announces, monasteries and other institutions like the Potala and the Norbulingka palaces in Lhasa have opened their doors – in many cases for the first time – and sent their treasures abroad, together with cultural relics now preserved in the Tibet Museum at Lhasa, which was established as the first museum in Tibet (Tibetan Autonomous Region, TAR) only six years ago. [1]

Organised by the “Kulturstiftung Ruhr” (Cultural Foundation of Ruhr District) in the city of Essen, a leading privately sponsored cultural institution in Germany for over 40 years known for major exhibitions of Western and non-European art, in cooperation with the Administrative Bureau of Cultural Relics of the TAR in Lhasa, this pioneering enterprise has turned out to be a milestone in presenting Tibetan art on a high level, comparable in quantity and quality with other exhibition landmarks such as “Wisdom and Compassion” in San Francisco, New York, London, Bonn, Barcelona, Japan, and Taipei (1991-1998), and the “Himalayas – An Aesthetic Adventure” in Chicago and Washington (2003). [2]

The scholarly and administrative organisation of the German exhibition, including all negotations with the Tibetan and Chinese authorities in Lhasa and Beijing, was in the hands of a team led by Professor Jeong-hee Lee-Kalisch, chair of the Institute for East-Asian Art History at Berlin University (FU), which curated exhibitions on Chinese art (under the leadership of Prof. Roger Goepper) and on Korean art in 1995 and 1999.

Fig. 1

The exhibition under review had an American forerunner quite recently: “Tibet - Treasures from the Roof of the World”, which was organised by the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in California in 2003 and successively shown by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, and by the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Tibetan art treasures from the TAR had been presented for the first time in Europe in two small exhibitions organised by the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris in 1987 and by the Rinascente department store in Milano in 1994, where four and eight objects respectively of the current German exhibition were shown. [3] While the Bowers exhibition was exclusively based on loans from public institutions in Lhasa like the Tibet Museum (fig.1) and the Potala and Norbulingka Palaces, Essen’s Villa Hügel Museum had the privilege of presenting for the first time some 25 religious works of art (11 catalogue entries) from five monasteries in Tibet, where they are still on display and ritually used. Great masterpieces, 14 important cultural relics, came only from two of these five monasteries, Mindröl Ling and Shalu. If one follows the comments of the German organisers the monastic institutions of Mindröl Ling, Gyantse, Shalu, Tashi Lhünpo and Sakya were very cooperative and even proud to have some of their treasures shown in the far West. However one cannot overlook some discrepancy between the proud title of the exhibition (“Monasteries Open Their Treasure Rooms”) and the fact that most of the objects are owned by museums (Tibet Museum, Potala Palace, Norbulingka Palace, Yarlung Museum) rather than monasteries. Seven monastic institutions did not open their doors to give loans abroad (Jokhang, Sera, Drepung, Nyethang, Yumbu Lakhar, Gongkar Chöde, Samye). Three very important cultural relics never seen before by foreigners came on loan from the Yarlung Museum at Tsethang, which has not been open to visitors during the last years. Not less than 45 paintings, statues, and ritual instruments are shown from the Potala Palace collection, another 18 objects are from the Norbulingka property; while 51 items were given by the Tibet Museum. As claimed in the catalogue the organisers did, however, “with respect to the believers”, not request works of art which are closely associated with the daily ritual praxis: A statement made maybe for reasons of prestige to which one may add that those items, even if requested, would not have been given on loan anyway. Regrettably all circa 60 objects from the Tibet Museum and from the Norbulingka Palace were given abroad without details about the former provenance, which at least in most cases is certainly known to the cultural relics authorities in Lhasa. And one also wonders where the magnificent brocade banner with the Yongle reign mark (no. 53 in the catalogue), one of the highlights in the exhibition, had been preserved previously.

Of the total of 138 objects, 33 were never seen before except by a few local experts, either in the original object or via publication. About 42 items, which is nearly one third of the whole exhibition, where never published before, and a total of 112 exhibits are shown for the first time outside China. Most of the loans, 85 pieces, cannot even be seen at their proper place in Tibet! These are impressive figures, and the inclusion of these rare and inaccessible objects is a credit to the considerate and successful selection policy of the Germans. The presence of these rare objects provide a contrast with the Bowers Museum exhibition, where the selection was apparently more determined by what had been offered by the Lhasa authorities.

The Essen exhibition, which was seen by 196,000 visitors before it moved to Berlin, has been clearly defined as an art exhibition with focus on aesthetic quality and art historical importance. The works of art were not just presented as an assembly of isolated aesthetic highlights; instead they were quite logically arranged within their historical and iconographical context.

The objects in the exhibition cover fifteen centuries, from a Chinese gilt bronze Shakyamuni statuette dated to 473 and brought at an unknown period to the Potala Palace to the Medicine thangka copies of the 1920s now kept in the Lhasa Museum. Thus this art historical survey of Tibet ends sometime before 1950 and does not include the period and person of the 14th Dalai Lama. This has been criticized by many visitors to the exhibition, whose idea and image of Tibet are essentially determined by this foremost and highly appreciated Tibetan representative of our days. For obvious reasons the devastations of countless historical relics during the so-called “Cultural Revolution” in the whole of China and Tibet between 1966 and 1976 were not documented in Essen and Berlin, but are still very tragically in mind, not only in the West. And those eminent losses cannot be covered by all the exhibited treasures, which fortunately have survived, for the religious benefit, daily use, study, and aesthetic pleasure of Tibetans in Tibet, in the diaspora, and abroad. That an exhibition of Tibetan cultural relics from present-day China shown in the West will focus on "Buddhist Art and Religion" alone is self-explaining. And self-restriction in this sense has been practised in Essen and in Lhasa, even at the Villa Hügel vernissage, when in an informal and discrete ambience no official speeches and statements were given and the officials from Lhasa and Beijing were hardly seen. When this exhibition, which has been under the patronage of the Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao and of the German Federal President Horst Köhler, was opened in its second venue on February 20, 2007, in the Museum for Asian Art at Berlin (director Prof. Willibald Veit and Dr. Herbert Butz for the East Asian department) in a more official way, welcome addresses were given by the President of the German House of Parliament, Norbert Lammert, by China’s ambassor Ma Canrong, and by Nyima Tsering, director of the Administrative Bureau of Cultural Relics of the TAR in Lhasa.

The homemade German texts in the show and in the catalogue-handbook get along without any overall guidelines except those of academic relevance and correctness toward the individual object and its cultural context. Such insight and discipline are not self-evident here and there and may give rise to criticism on both sides. The German organisers, one may argue, had no other choice in order to get this exhibition done. Yet they were intelligent enough to pay proper respect to the needs and feasibilities of the generous lenders and to get a maximum back. According to his own words the director of the Villa Hügel Cultural Foundation, Prof. Paul Vogt, was also well aware of the eventual political aspects and related discussions in this regard. But he noted: “Nevertheless Tibetans in exile supported actively the planning and preparations of this exhibition. Other came to pay their respect to these ritual images and were pleased to see such significant visual manifestations of their faith, which have been sent from Tibetan monasteries or institutions, and not from museums in the West. I am convinced that the public presentation of these religious objects and the scientific study and publication of Tibet’s cultural heritage will contribute to their preservation and safeguarding”. And the German Federal President justified his patronage with similar arguments: "This exhibition does not claim to present the history of Tibet until our days, however it shows religious works of art – often still in active ritual use – owned by public institutions and by monasteries. Thus they are part of a living culture and of the identity of the Tibetan people. The exhibition gives a chance for a cultural and spiritual mission. We believe that the presentation of Tibet’s cultural relics is also a contribution to emphasize and to support the autonomy of Tibet”.

In view of the different thematic categories the selection is well balanced between images and non-figural items, with 59 statues from miniature to life-size, 25 thangka paintings and six fabric images (kesi, silk embroidery), some 54 ritual objects, four sacred books, and twelve historical and other secular objects.

It was not the intention of this exhibition to illustrate and document the cultural history of Tibet or to give a visual introduction to the “Land of Snows”. Yet many chapters of Tibet’s religious and cultural history are covered by the five sections of the exhibition plan anyway.

The visitor – and the reader of the heavy (over 4 kg!) catalogue handbook – begins his kora ("bsko ra"; ritual circumambulation) in front of the early Indian and Tibetan Lamdre (lam ‘bras) lineage masters of the Sakyapa tradition, an at least most impressive “path and result” and no doubt a brilliant mental and highly eyecatching introduction into the visual dharma of Tibet. The second part, like all the other sections decorated in a colour scheme featuring one of the symbolic colours of the Five Buddha Families or of the five elements, is dedicated to the three-fold world of the dharma – body, speech, and mind: to the principal deities and teachers, the sacred scriptures, and to the stupa, the aniconic symbol of the Awakened One. The third part follows at the center of the exhibition: the mandalas, meditational emblems of microcosm and macrocosm, and then the fourth, a large section comprising a rather broad and not always convincing entity of “Rulers and Monasteries” with images of religious (and secular) sovereigns and their emblemata, various ritual implements and altar furnishings, which one would have prefered to see, however, in a more condensed and systematic context of a “temple iconology”. The last section of the exhibition - dedicated to Tibetan medicine - appears more like a rather arbitrary appendix (of an en-vogue subject) rather than an essential chapter of the fivefold path to enlightenment on the exhibition's ambitious path of circumambulation.

The aesthetic presentation in the huge, over a hundred years old building, once the residence of the famous Krupp family, a leading industrial “institution” in 20th century Germany, was very impressive. The spacious halls were skilfully transformed into several compartments with the objects shown in a decent setting of tranquilizing colours and concentrated light. In reasonable balance with the overall design additional texts provide sufficient information for the exhibits, much to the benefit of the visitor, who in other cases like the current exhibition on “The Dalai Lamas” in Zürich (Ethnographic Museum) and Rotterdam (World Museum) is solely and “compulsorily” guided around by audiophones. The high standard of the selection could not be realised in every field, presumably due to restrictions of the lenders of this exhibition. This is specifically evident for the painted Mandalas, which are represented only on a low quality level (nos. 68,72,73,78), although two exceptional 15th century Kalacakra Mandalas are kept in the Potala Palace and in the Lhasa Museum. Only a few other items might be considered dispensable, such as the paintings nos. 43, 46 and 58, or the statues nos. 30,51,52 and 66 along with some ritual objects such as nos. 90,91,93 and 101 did not match the excellent overall quality level of this exhibition.

In the following annotations I will mainly focus on those works of art, which by their outstanding artistic quality, their specific iconographic interest, or by characteristics inviting scholarly dispute may deserve some special attention.


Fig. 2a

The ten life-size Lamdre masters in gilt copper repoussé technique from Mindröl Ling (sMin grol gling) monastery are no doubt among the most fascinating statues to exist in present-day Tibet (fig.2a,b). Though closely connected with the Sakya tradition the complete set of 21 images, from Buddha Vajradhara to the Shalu lotsawa Chökyong Sangpo (Chos skyong bZang po, 1441-1528), was moved from the deserted Drathang (Gra thang) monastery shortly before my first visit there in 1992 to the Nyingma seat at Mindröl Ling, where they are now installed in the heart of the dukhang. In style and technique these unique monumental yogins and teachers indicate a Newari atelier, which is confirmed by a Nagari inscription on one of the exposed images. It is believed that they were commissioned by Chökyong Sangpo, who came from Shalu to central Tibet in 1483 to become later on abbot of Drathang, where he introduced the Lamdre teachings of the Sakya tradition. At Gong dkar Chos sde he may have been in contact with the genius artist mKhyen brtse or with his atelier, whose unorthodox modern painting style and some related nearly lifesize and very realistic statues of Lamdre masters (as they are mentioned for an unidentifiable site in 1919) [4], were probably not without influence on the Nepalese artists.We are informed by the texts (Zhva lu gdan rabs) that Chökyong Sangpo’s disciple Ön Lodrö Pekar (‘On bLo gros Pad dkar) commissioned a precious image of his master after the death of the latter, which might be identical with the last one of the 21 statues at Mindröl Ling. Whether all other repoussé figures of this cycle were still made during the lifetime of Chökyong Sangpo remains purely speculative. [5] It is, however, more likely that the complete set was produced after the Shalu Lotsawa had died in 1528. Thus a date to the second quarter of the 16th century does not only correspond better to the general characteristics of a 16th century style like it is illustrated for example by the magnificent Siddha murals at Yamdrog Talung (Ya ‘brog sTag lung) monastery, but would be also in accordance with the dating of the exhibition catalogue (“first half of 16th century”), whose 33(!) pages on this subject present an extremely detailed documentation on the Sakya school in Tibet and its essential Lamdre tradition, as well as on the various iconographic, stylistic, art historical, and technical aspects of the Mindröl Ling statues (p.119-151). [6] In his precise and substantial commentaries, Andreas Kretschmar clearly identified the Mindröl Ling group clearly with the oral Vajra verses tradition of the Lamdre system from the early beginnings until Zhang ston Chos ‘bar (1053-1135, no.7 of the exhibition), which were written down for the first time by the third Sakya throne-holder Sa chen Kun dga’ sNying po (1092-1158, no.8).

Fig. 2b

By reviewing the sculptural highlights of the exhibition via some kind of chronological order, I do not follow here the “iconological” system of the overall presentation, which, displaying the objects within the specific context of function and meaning, is generally the best way to introduce a foreign culture of complex and difficult symbolism to a greater public. Among the early metal sculptures shown in the exhibition, two male figures of unknown iconography from the Potala Palace are labelled as “Zhang zhung Kingdom of Western Tibet, 8th century” (no.40), an attribution which is solely based on von Schroeder’s problematic “identification” of some twelve predominantly Buddhist (!) statuettes discovered by him in the Potala Palace and at a few other sites in Tibet in the 1990s. [7] In her text to this entry Marit Kretschmar (MK) refers mainly – and correctly – to the early “Central Asian” costumes of these images, a general feature however of early Tibetan figures without any priority for western Tibet (where in the pre-11th century period the “Kashmirian mode” had been the only stylistic convention anyway). This may just confirm the early date of these enigmatic statues, which hardly can be understood as “donors” (von Schroeder).

Until recently no cultural or artistic profile could be established for a western Tibetan Zhang zhung kingdom, of which no reliable archaeological data and clues do exist. Neither during the Tucci expeditions in the 1930s or the Chinese excavations at Tsaparang and Tholing in the 1980s and 1990s, nor in the course of the extensive field surveys in the western Changthang plains by John V.Bellezza and from the first archaeological investigations at Khyung lung dNgul mkhar by Professor Li Yongxian in 2004 have any similar artefacts come to light, which would support the hypothesis of a specific group of “Zhang zhung art”. And how much sense does it make to find Buddhist art production in a Bon-dominated kingdom, which by mere chronology did not exist anymore at the time when these images – on stylistic grounds – must have been manufactured? I also have doubts whether the twelve “Zhang zhung images” (as suggested by von Schroeder), partly cast in copper and partly in brass, make a homogenous “oeuvre”. Some of them belong to the style of Greater Kashmir, while others are more related to an early Newar-Central Tibetan style of the sPu rgyal dynasty period. [8] One may argue that Buddhism had found its way to the eastern borderlands of Greater Kashmir, which is indeed well-documented by several early rock-carved images in Ladakh, Zanskar, Baltistan and Gilgit, and assume, as von Schroeder does, that the “origins” for these statues might be sought for in “the Tibetan dominions in the western parts of Central Asia”. Yet the “origins” only? Or as another construct would make us believe: could these images have been “commissioned” by the Zhang zhung rulers from those “western” areas? Wouldn’t it be less speculative to associate them with the Tibetan borderlands in the West around the 8th century, with “Bolorian Tibet” or with “Little Bolor” (Tib. Bru zha), which was conquered by the Tibetans in 735?


Fig. 3

At least four of the six exhibited Kashmir style metal images are of exceptional quality and art historical importance. An additional advantage of the thoughtful selection is their wide chronological range over a period of circa 600 years, a rare chance to study the earliest and the latest Kashmir styles from about 600 to 1200 at the same time. The most impressive Kashmiri “guest” from the Potala Palace and one of only two existing early Kashmiri statues of this size and quality is a 94 cm tall standing Shakyamuni inscribed at the base in Sanskrit as having been donated by the monk Priyaruci and King Durlabha (-vardhana, r.circa 625-637), which allows a dating of the statue to circa 620-630 (no.13; fig.3). Almost 400 years later, sometime between 998 and 1016, when it had apparently been brought from Kashmir to western Tibet, a Tibetan inscription was added describing this Buddha as the personal meditational image of the royal prince Nagaraja (988-1026), son of the lama-king Ye shes ‘Od of Gu ge, who was constructing at that time the great “mandala temple” at Tholing. With the exception of the much later standing Buddha in the Cleveland Museum of Art (datable to circa 1000) and a similar statue in the Lindenmuseum Stuttgart, Germany, no monumental Kashmir style image of this importance has been shown in the West before.

Fig. 4a

Another significant 63 cm high gilt copper statue of a standing Shakyamuni from the Lhasa Museum (fig.4a) can be regarded in my opinion as a later, circa 11th century “Gu ge interpretation” by a Tibetan artist of the classical earlier Kashmir Buddha type (no.14: “Kashmir, 7th/8th century”). While the attribution of Kashmir style images from the 10th through the 12th centuries either to a Kashmiri or to a Tibetan artist is in many cases difficult or even impossible, the Lhasa Buddha indicates in comparison with nos.11 and 13 as well as with other “genuine” early Kashmir statuary a distinctive local “Gu ge design”: the more schematic “linear” garment style (“Faltenstil”) of the robe as well as the proportions of the head and its facial features seem to be general characteristics of Western Himalayan figural art between Gu ge and sPi ti during the 11th and 12th century, compared with nos.11 and 13 or other early statues of “genuine” Kashmiri provenance. [9]


Fig. 4b

Coming back to the original Kashmir style images of the 7th and 8th centuries, the seated Buddha in dharmacakra-mudra no.11 is another exhibition highlight from Greater Kashmir, whose artistic production had an essential influence on Tibetan art during the formative phase between circa 1000 and 1200, primarily and rather exclusively in the western regions. From here these images may have been brought at that time and in later periods (probably a few during the Tibetan military campaigns in the 7th or 8th century) to central Tibet, where however their distinctive style did not have a substantial impact on statuary and painting, which increasingly came under the influence of the great Pala-Indian and Nepalese traditions. The Lhasa museum image no.11 is one of the finest seated Buddhas of an “antique” Gandharan-Swat Valley style lineage, with silver and copper inlays of Central Asian textile patterns. Similar sculptures are preserved in Western public and private collections and in the Yonghegong temple at Beijing [10], and in remote places in western Tibet, where even “unknown” masterpieces of an early Kashmir style have survived like at Gu ru rGyam cave sanctuary in ancient Khyung lung valley, to be properly rediscovered and hopefully published in the near future. Even at much more prominent places like the Ramoche in Lhasa, exceptional Kashmirian statues are preserved such as an (unpublished) 87 cm tall crowned Buddha of the circa 11th century, a period when probably most of the Kashmir style images were brought to central Tibet (fig.4b).

A very interesting six-armed Avalokiteshvara from the Potala Palace represents the late Kashmir style of around 1200 (no.35). However, I cannot agree with the catalogue text, according to which this image would not be “a Kashmiri work in the real sense”, yet with “influences from other regions”. From which regions? Was there ever any distinctive influence from the neighbouring regions on the art of Kashmir except of the Indian Gupta and the Gandharan-Swat mainstream? Has ever a Kashmiri statue been associated with the highly refined late Kashmir style of the Alchi murals, where similar floral ornaments and flamed patterns like on the throne and nimbus of the Potala statue do occur? [11] And can late or latest elements of an over five hundred years old artistic tradition (which is subject to change!) be interpreted as a foreign vocabulary?

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

Fig. 7

Fig. 8

The Pala-Indian predecessors of Tibetan art are represented by one of the most beautiful and important masterpieces of the entire exhibition: the life-size standing Bodhisattva Maitreya from the Li ma lha khang in the Potala Palace collection (no.32; height: 154cm; figs.5,6,7). Before 1994, the year when these chapels were opened to the public for the first time, this exceptional 12th century brass statue virtually did not exist for pious pilgrims and experienced experts. Since then this most beautiful monumental Indian sculpture in Tibet has been largely covered by silk brocades. Thus the real grandeur of this Pala style statue with all the ornamental silver and copper inlays on the dhoti and the turquoise and other precious stones indicating a manufacture for a Tibetan patron was only revealed in the exhibition. The image was either produced in eastern India (as it is known for example for a painted scroll commissioned by Atisha) or, probably more likely, in Tibet by an Indian artist. At least two more monumental statues of the 11th and 12th centuries in a private property and at sNye thang monastery [12] document clearly the presence, and as I believe, the production of large Indian metal statues in Tibet. And one wonders about the strict objections of some Tibetologists against a probable Indian authorship of a few early thangkas found in Tibet. [13] Just three examples of comparable Indian stone and metal sculpture may prove what has not been seen in the catalogue text: a superb 11th century stone torso of a female figure in the Delhi National Museum (fig.8), a Tara stele in the Indian Museum at Calcutta dated to 1074, and a Kurkihar Avalokiteshvara in the Patna Museum of the late 11th or early 12th century. [14] – One cannot help but regret when looking at this Sambhogakaya-Maitreya, that he does not reveal his “true” unpainted face, now after over 800 years, though more for the pleasure of the art lover than for the benefit of unknown hierarchs and countless pilgrims on their path from the formal beauty of the phenomena to the formless truth of the dharma.

While other Nepalese sculpture is represented only by a small but beautiful 14th century gilt copper statuette of a thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara (no.33), the significant image of the seated bodhisattva (Amoghasiddhi?) no.20 should be rather attributed to a Newari atelier of the 11th century than described as “Tibetan”. Like several other statues of the same style, this loan from the Lhasa museum can be regarded as a prototype model for Tibetan statuary of the phyi dar period, especially also for monumental clay statues like at the Lhasa Jo khang or at sNye thang monastery. [15] In its simple composition and jewelry adornment it recalls the classical tradition of early Newari sculpture at a time when Tibetan artists were just about to copy and to assimilate the formal vocabulary of their neighbours to the south, west and north of the central regions.

Two royal figures, no. 80 and 81, are masterpieces of Tibetan statuary in a double sense: beautiful examples of advanced 14th century image art and rare incunabula of high-ranking secular iconography. The 47cm high brass image of King Srong btsan sGam po (no.81, fig.8b) from the Potala Palace is, with the exception of some early 9th century rock-carvings in eastern Tibet, the earliest preserved statue of a sPu rgyal dynasty king, represented here in the much older concept of the “Avalokiteshvara in the form of a king” (Blue Annals). The catalogue text (by Petra Maurer) however, though extensively informing the reader about Srong btsan sGam po in general, does not say anything about the proper statue with regard to its historical, iconographic and stylistic aspects in context. While this king was identified with Tibet’s most prominent bodhisattva already during the later monarchic period, when those kings were described as “son of the gods” (lha sras) or as a “king divinely manifested” in contemporary rdo ring inscriptions and Dunhuang texts, the individual image of the bodhisattva ruler with the small Amitabha figure on top of his turban did not exist to the best of my knowledge before the 14th century. When Ta’i si tu Byang chub rGyal mtshan (1302-1364), the actual ruler of dBus gTsang towards the middle of the 14th century, promoted a “national renaissance” by creating a new awareness of the Tibetan roots in the dynastic era, the historical and ideological background and motivation for such images and for a proper Srong btsan sGam po cult were established. And at the same period the first monumental clay statue of this king was installed in the Jo khang, which may have served as a model for the metal image of the exhibition. [16] The historical circumstances are confirmed by stylistic criteria. The characteristic dragon medallions of the king’s robe can be well compared with similar designs of imperial symbolism on Yuan dynasty textiles. – The catalogue texts for the two royal images of the same (!) period and style are strangely written by two different authors. In her detailed discussion of the anonymous “Tibetan dharma king” no.80 Bernadette Broeskamp (BB) follows largely the description in von Schroeder’s “Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet” (“Princely donor depicted as Amitayus? 11th/12th century”, fig.8a) [17], yet interprets the iconography more convincingly as an early religious king (chos rgyal) in the sambhogakaya aspect. Although this idealized statue of a worldly sovereign may well be associated with earlier concepts of Vairocana as an universal ruler and of the dharmaraja-cakravartin, it must be dated to the same 14th century period like the king no.81. Both images have similar motifs and stylistic elements: garment style and especially the making of the lower part of the robe, facial features, and hair style. The crown leaves do not resemble those of the 11th or 12th century, which are characterised by a rather flat and linear design (see for example no.20!), but recall instead the more sculptural style of 13th and 14th century metalwork inlaid with precious stones. [18] A comparison with similarly dressed princely figures in the wall-paintings at Drathang (Gra thang, 1081/1093) is for chronological reasons misleading. The style of the royal metal statues in the Potala indicates also an archaistic element in order to mark the historical continuity and the “revival” of the chos rgyal period and its “mode monarchique” in the 14th century. Ornamental textile patterns such as the Central Asian roundels on the sleeves of the king’s robe can be regarded as specific designs of ancient royal or princely dresses and were apparently used for a similar context also in later times. And last but not least, no other royal statues of this type exist, which can be safely attributed to the phyi dar period.

Fig. 8a

Fig. 8b

Fig. 9

One of the most exceptional loans of the entire exhibition, both for its sheer aesthetic beauty and technical workmanship as well as for its art historical importance, is the large gilt copper statue of the Kalacakra yidam deity from Shalu monastery (no.54, height: 60 cm), an unrivalled masterpiece of a Tibetan yab-yum image. (fig.9) Nowhere else in Tibet or in any public and private collection in China or abroad has been preserved a similar sculptural group of this size and quality. The catalogue text (Gregor Verhufen) however is limited to a general though detailed iconographic description of the Kalacakra yidam without giving any attention to the individual statue and to its art historical or technical aspects. This principal image was no doubt specifically associated with Bu ston’s Kalacakra teachings and praxis at Shalu and thus would probably have been produced there by an atelier from the Kathmandu Valley sometime between 1320 and 1364. [19] The elegant movement of the figure, the dynamic and very decorative scarves, the elaborately worked crowns, and the various inlaid precious stones indicate clearly the Newar artist tradition of that period, stylistic characteristics which can also be recognized in several painted cycles at Shalu. And it must have been this ultimate yidam image representing the highest teaching system of the Yoga Tantras, which in 1919 the famous pilgrim-scholar Kah thog Si tu Chos kyi rGya mtsho had seen on his extensive travels in the Central Regions of Tibet, “as tall as an arrow, of pure gold and adorned with precious stones”. [20] The reviewer being familiar with this monastery since 1980, cannot help adding his personal thanks – certainly in the name of many others who have seen the exhibition – to the monk community of Shalu (and so he did during a visit in October 2006) for having been so generous to let one of their most precious treasures go for some time to the western world.

Fig. 10

That significant early paintings are less well represented in the German exhibition depends at least partly on the more limited material which has survived in good condition. And obviously there are now many more pre-16th century thangkas in western properties (most of them more or less extensively restored) than in Tibetan monasteries and other institutions, which have not been ritually used for long or never did undergo a thorough restoration. Although we do not know if there are still hidden treasures among the painted scrolls stored in the Potala Palace, it seems that there is probably only a single painting of the characteristic 12th and 13th century Five Tathagatha sets left in Tibet as they once existed for example at Shalu monastery [21] and from where their sculptural counterparts were lent for this exhibition (no.19a-e; fig.10)


Fig. 11

The most significant and beautiful painting shown in the exhibition is a hitherto unpublished 14th century thangka of a Newari artist depicting the crowned Diamond Seat Buddha (fig.11) or, as it is called in the Sadhanamala text of the 12th century, the Vajrasana tathagatha in bhumisparsa mudra seated on the diamond throne, triumphing over Mara (no.16). Like in several earlier 12th and 13th century paintings [22] the Buddha is represented soon after his enlightenment seated in the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya, yet depicted “ahistorically” with a crown like a cakravartin, a “world king” or universal ruler, though “still” dressed in a monk’s robe of the historical Buddha: Shakyamuni in his divine and kingly form. The crowned Buddha, basically referring to his sambhogakaya aspect according to the trikaya concept and a quite rare iconographic form of the Mahabodhi-Vajrasana Shakyamuni, symbolizes “the five transcendental insights (jnanas) that the Buddha attained as part of the enlightenment process” [23], manifested by the five transcendental Buddhas seated in the Mahabodhi shrine in the painting’s upper section. The actual origins and models of the crowned Diamond Seat-bhumisparsa mudra Buddha surrounded by Mara’s attack and many more scenes of Shakyamuni’s life-story can be traced back to the characteristic large Indian stone steles of the Pala period and especially to the popular small votive tablets (see no.15) as they were existing mainly in the Bodhgaya and Nalanda areas to be brought by pious pilgrims and eminent masters to Tibet. The Chinese monk-traveller Xuanzang (Hsien Tsiang) reports from the early 7th century that the principal statue of the Buddha, “eleven feet and five inches high” in the Mahabodhi temple depicted calling the earth as witness whilst subduing Mara. He described it as adorned with “a necklace of precious stones and jewels, whilst on the head they placed a diadem of encircling gems, exceedingly rich”. [24] According to a textual tradition a coronation was part of celestial consecrations bestowed on Shakyamuni after his final meditation stage. [25] And as told by a later Tsongkhapa biography the Jo bo Shakyamuni statue in the Lhasa Jokhang would have been crowned with a diadem (dbu rgyan) “to encourage the devotion of the Indians” [26], which recalls the 10th and 11th century stone steles from Nalanda depicting the Buddha crowned like a king as an universal sovereign.

Beyond the very thorough description and interpretation of the Buddha story around the central composition, nothing is said in the catalogue text on the art historical and stylistic aspects of the painting, which recalls the Newari style murals at Shalu of the first half of the 14th century, though it is not really identical with their specific formal language. While the individual “handwriting” indicates clearly a Nepalese artist (see detail illustr. p.175,176), one cannot label this magnificent Mahabodhi enlightenment Shakyamuni simply as “Kathmandu Valley style”. 30 years after Pratapaditya Pal’s pioneering book on Nepalese painting and so many newly discovered and published painted scrolls and metal images from Nepal and Nepalese style works of art from Tibet one sees the need for a comprehensive modern documentation of Nepalese painting and sculpture and of its “Nepalo-Tibetan” derivatives. And then one may also find a more precise stylistic – and iconographical - identity for the much later but somehow archaistic and hardly less refined painting of the Bodhgaya-Shakyamuni no.17 than just “Tibet, 18th-19th century”. [27]

Fig. 12

Another excellent selection – especially in the context of the two paintings no.16 and 17 – has been the sandalwood “model” of the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya (fig.12), the largest and most detailed existing miniature copy of this principal Buddhist sanctuary among several other replicas in the Potala Palace collection (no.22, height: 49 cm), with a very informative catalogue text on the history and typology of the Mahabodhi temple by Niels Gutschow. While several other of these temple copies are much smaller in order to serve as portable votive objects for pilgrims, this exceptional shrine in miniature might have been sent with a highranking mission to Tibet, probably during the phyi dar period or at the latest maybe as a sacred gift taken by the Bodhgaya abbot Sariputra on his visit to Tibet in 1414. Beyond its value as an object of veneration, this outstanding reliquary is most important for architectural exactness as an authentic 11th century “model” of the original building as it was before the late 11th century (indicated by some details which no longer exist in the present building). The attribution of this Mahabodhi temple replica to Burmese artisans [28], who had been involved in the reconstruction of the temple architecture around 1098, remains however speculative. This assumption is based on another problematic hypothesis, according to which the so-called “short necked Buddha” type (as illustrated by this replica) would indicate a distinctive Burmese origin, but not, one may add, exclusively, since the early prototypes appear to have their roots in Eastern Bengal. The wooden temple replica, which seems to be made almost exactly on a scale of 1:100 in relation to the early circa 50 metres high Mahabodhi temple of the Gupta period, informs us like no other of these models about the original construction of this foremost shrine of the Buddhist world. Only here we can identify the original stone fence dating to the first century B.C.E. or the contemporary capitals and bases of the pillars. And even the many small Gupta style Buddha statues in the niches of the central tower and of the portico may serve for a reliable reconstruction of the former architecture in composition and style.


Fig. 13

At about the same time when the sandalwood Mahabodhi temple no.22 had been carved, one of the most beautifully illuminated Indian palm leaf manuscripts was written not far away from Bodhgaya, very likely at the Nalanda Buddhist academy in the late 11th century, from where it was apparently brought to ‘On ke ru Lha khang monastery, located some kilometres away from the northern banks of the Tsangpo river opposite Tsethang (no.26). This hitherto unknown manuscript of the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra (whose name and content should have been explained briefly in the catalogue) is one of the few illustrated books of the Pala period in complete condition and especially unique because of its superbly painted and well preserved wooden covers (58x7 cm, 139 leaves with total twelve illuminations on four pages, figs.13,14). According to the colophon the Tsethang manuscript was donated by the mother of the great pandita Sri Asoka in the second year of the reign of King Surapala, which corresponds to the very end of the 11th century. With no doubt were those Indian manuscript illuminations of great influence for early Tibetan paintings in the 11th and 12th century. In addition to Eva Allinger’s thorough discussion of this painted treasure in iconography and style, which like many other texts in the catalogue may certainly suit more the special interest of the scholarly reader than it would meet the curiosity and capacity of the “other 95%” of the exhibition’s visitors, at least two approximately contemporary Pala manuscripts in Tibet are adorned with illuminations and painted or carved covers of similar breathtaking quality: another 8000 verses Prajnaparamita text in the Tibet Museum at Lhasa and a manuscript of unknown content at Sakya monastery. [29]

Fig. 14

The enormous book treasures at Sakya were so far never investigated, especially the corpus of Sanskrit manuscripts, “one of the last ‘hidden’ treasures of Asia”. [30] When in 1926 the Indian scholar Rahula Sankrtyanana (1893-1963) “discovered 25 bundles of palm-leaf Sanskrit manuscripts” in the “Manuscript chapel” (Phyag dpe lha Khang) on the upper storey of Sakya monastery, “the whole floor was covered with a thick layer of dust about one-third of an inch”. [31] While in 1961 about 250 manuscripts were brought from Tibet to the Minority Palace library in Beijing and in the successive years many more from various monasteries were gathered in Lhasa (Potala and Norbulingka Palaces, of which some are now in the Tibet Museum), Sakya is still by far the largest monastic repository of Tibetan and Indian manuscripts. At present the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences in Lhasa is working on a project for an inventory of the Tibetan written and xylographed books in Sakya. And only recently all these early manuscripts were moved from the huge 13th century book-shelves in the Lha khang Chen mo to a separate library hall built in the traditional Tibetan Sakya style in 2004 opposite the southern front of the main monastic complex.

From “Prajnaparamita light” to the most heavy 8000 verses edition: no.27 is a 100 cm long and 54,5 cm (!) wide foliant with huge carved wooden covers and usually “on display” at it’s original place in the main assembly hall of Gyantse monastery (Chos rgyal lha khang). Both manuscripts are documenting in the exhibition the wide range of the eminent Buddhist textual tradition from the Indian Sanskrit sources to the great Tibetan Sutra translations in the Kanjur at the time of Tsongkhapa, for the exhibition catalogue a good opportunity to inform extensively about the “Perfection of Wisdom”.


Fig. 15

Closely connected with the Indian painting tradition of the Pala period is another hitherto unseen scroll painting of a standing bodhisattva Manjusri from the Yarlung Museum at Tsethang and published here for the first time (no.31; 77,5x23,5cm; fig.15). Formerly kept at Ke ru Lha khang in the opposite ‘On Valley this image is no doubt one of the earliest Tibetan paintings to exist, datable on stylistic grounds to the late 11th century. [32] The long dbU med inscription on the back consists of Sanskrit dharanis and consecration formulas. The iconographic and stylistic identity of this vertically proportioned banner – apparently a very early type of the Tibetan thangka – has been well researched in the catalogue by Bernadette Bröskamp. Quotations from Indian manuscript illuminations of the 11th century such as the trees on top, the lotuses at the bottom, the figural style of the bodhisattva, and the kneeling donors recalling similarly drawn lay worshippers in Tibetan murals of the 11th century, characterise this painting as an early Tibetan interpretation of the Indian Pala style. The Tsethang bodhisattva can be also clearly distinguished from the much earlier Tibetan style found at Dunhuang (London, British Museum) and from the sPu rgyal period bodhisattva statues at Ke ru Lha khang. The safe stylistic profile of an 11th century date for this thangka corresponds to other circa contemporary Pala style paintings outside India like, for example, in Pagan (Abeyadana, Kubyauk gyi Myinkaba, late 11th and early 12th century) and also contributes to confirm the dating of other early painted scrolls such as the large Amitayus thangka in the Metropolitan Museum New York. [33]

Compared with the Indian roots and antecedents, the Chinese connection with Tibetan Buddhist art for wellknown historical and geographical reasons is much more long-lasting and by far more variously interrelated in both directions. While the term “Sino-Tibetan art” refers correctly to all those paintings and statues produced in Tibet but influenced by specific Chinese elements in style and iconography (though often misused for Buddhist or “lamaist” art produced in China in the Tibetan style), “Tibeto-Chinese” should be the right label for all Tibetan style works of art made in China and its bordering areas. All together 10 exhibits belong to this second and indeed more attractive group. All of them were produced in the imperial ateliers, which guaranteed a highly refined quality standard of Tibetan-Buddhist “court art” in China. This foreign esoteric Buddhism, its religious fascination and political function, and its exotic visual world was in fact concentrated and limited to imperial demand and patronage, be it the passionate personal attachment to the Tibetan hierarchs and to their sacred meditational images under the Yongle emperor of the early Ming, be it the much discussed support of Tibetan Buddhism by the Qianlong emperor between political considerations and private interest.

Fig. 16

The early chapter of Tibeto-Chinese art during the Mongol-Chinese and Yuan dynasty period (1279-1368 and before) can’t be represented better than by the magnificent and extremely well preserved Acala “silk painting” from the Tibet Museum in Lhasa (fig.16) woven in the costly “imperial” slip tapestry technique (kesi) (no. 49). The much discussed question, where these early fabric thangkas in this especially valued technique were produced, Lhasa or Dadu (Beijing), is usually answered in favour of the Xi Xia Tangut Kingdom, “made in Yuan China”. [34] Yet there is no doubt that the painted models for these highly precious images came from Tibet. [35] In so far as the tapestry is certainly not the original icon, which according to the Tibetan inscription on the Acala was dedicated “to the great ‘Khon (Sa skya) master Grags pa rGyal mtshan (1147-1216) by his disciple Cang brtson ‘grus grags from Kham”. Since the first part of the inscription has been variously interpreted as “commissioned” for Grags pa rGyal mtshan or as “offered” and “presented” to him, the kesi was dated by some scholars before 1216. According to Per K.Sorensen’s highly interesting, though not always feasible and consistent historiographical argumentation, the Acala would have been “executed for and donated to” Grags pa rGyal mtshan by Cang brtson ‘grus grags sometime between 1200 and 1216. [36] According to the most likely interpretation of the inscription the original painting was “presented” (phul) personally to the eminent Sakya hierarch, that means during his lifetime, while its woven reproduction was commissioned at a later time “on imperial command” at the Mongol capital. A later and in my opinion [37] more convincing date of the kesi to the Yuan dynasty period is also suggested by Bernadette Bröskamp’s very informative catalogue text because of some linguistic inconsistencies in the Tibetan inscription caused by the non-Tibetan textile atelier later on and, less strikingly I would say, due to the “sumptuous colourfulness” of the kesi. Another argument for a later dating towards the second half of the 13th century or to the Yuan period may be the former pearls stitched once on the figures in the lower register, of which only a single one is now left (almost invisible) on the forehead of the central Tara. [38] The use of pearls to adorn textiles and fabric images is known as a characteristic Mongolian tradition. Even more supporting an “advanced Mongol period” date is, in my opinion, the elaborate silken border (fortunately reproduced in the catalogue in full size), which after a closer look in the exhibition must be the authentic mounting of the period. The ornamental vocabulary of these golden silks recalls Yuan dynasty patterns. [39] And similarly would the two decorative lan dza (lan tsha) script panels with the Om mani padme hum mantra indicate a Yuan period origin [40]. Although this sacred script originated at the turn of the first millennium in Buddhist Bengal, where it was called in allusion to its calligraphic character “ranjana” or “ranja” (Sanskrit: “delightful, pleasant”), and came with Buddhist manuscripts successively to Nepal, Central Asia and China, the decorational use for prominent Tibetan style works of art like the Acala tapestry does not appear to have been popular before the Yuan dynasty period. “Ranja” was phonetically imitated by the Tibetans as “lan dza” and predominantly used for ornamental mantras and bijas (root syllables). – Whatever the artistic differences in Tibetan “silk painting” of around 1200 or 1300 may be, the figural style of our kesi – for example the Avalokiteshvara and Usnisavijaya at the bottom – goes rather towards the 14th century than back to the 12th century. And a good number of Tibetan painted scrolls, which by stylistic estimation (or speculation) may date “around 1200” were in fact produced some fifty to hundred years later.

Was this fabric image with its illustrated and textual references to the first three Sakya hierarchs manufactured at some time later than the painted Vorlage (model) and sent with Tibetan dignitaries at the Yuan court to Sakya monastery in the late 13th or early 14th century? When between circa 1310 and 1320 the imperial tutor and preceptor Mus chen rGyal mtshan dPal bzang po, the nephew of ‘Phags pa bLa ma, travelled from Dadu (Beijing) to Sakya, he carried “woven images (btags sku)” in his luggage. [41] – The kesi technique was introduced into China by the Uighurs in the early Song dynasty (12th century) and, as we are informed by a historical text, factories for these textiles were established in Hangzhou with “weavers of gold fabrics from the western regions” and “new trends developed”. [42] Hangzhou is well known for its production of silkenware and also as an important administration and art center in southern China, particularly of Tibetan Buddhism during the late Song and early Yuan dynasty. A comprehensive Tripitaka edition was published here in 1269-1285, many Buddhist texts with “Tibeto-Chinese” illustrations xylographed, and the famous Tibetan style statues at the Feilaifeng grottoes carved between 1282 and 1292. It has been argued by the Chinese scholar Su Bai that the Acala kesi was possibly(!) produced in a Hangzhou atelier. [43] Although there is some probability for a Hangzhou origin of such silken images towards the late 13th century, we have so far no textual or other evidence.

After the first Ming emperor Hongwu (r.1368-1398) had banned the production and use of those luxurious silken images, a grand revival of this Tibeto-Chinese art tradition was patronized by both the third Ming ruler Chengzu, known as the Yongle emperor (r.1403-1424) and especially during the reign of the Xuande emperor (1426-1435). The large blue and golden silk brocade banner of Cakrasamvara in yab-yum from the Yarlung Museum in Tsethang (no.53; 275x210cm without border), probably once kept in a Tsethang monastery, has been so far – quite literally – a hidden treasure, which was not on display in Tibet for the last decades. [44] Sometime after circa 1985 its original fabric border was removed and replaced by modern brocades. By the Chinese six-character mark Da Ming Yongle nian shi in the upper right corner, “made during the Yongle reign of the Great Ming”, it can be dated to the years after 1407, when Ming Chengzu met the Fifth Karmapa at the court in Nanjing the representatives of the Sakyapa and Gelugpa schools in the successive years. Compared with two other large-size embroidered silk thangkas of Cakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava in the Lhasa Jokhang bearing the same Yongle reign mark [45] the Tsethang banner depicts no other deities or monk figures, which would allow an attribution to one of these Tibetan-Buddhist traditions or to a specific hierarch.


Fig. 17

The monochrome gold technique has been associated in the catalogue text (by Juliane Noth) with the originally Central Asian Nasij (“gold cloth”) weaving of the Yuan period. Basically similar gold-and-blue silk lampas weaves with Buddhist design did exist already in the 13th century. [46] Possibly these uni-coloured “silken paintings” on blue or red ground had also some influence on later Tibetan thangkas painted in an equivalent monochrome technique. I cannot see, however, any distinctive drawing style in the “Chinese brush painting manner” (catalogue text). “Chinese” is here the entity of several formal and technical features and the individual “handwriting”: the transformation of a Tibetan iconographic and aesthetic vocabulary into a new Tibeto-Chinese syntax of slightly different figural proportions, facial features, and ornamental design (lotus petals), which appear to have been meticulously copied but were seen through the eyes of a Chinese artist. At least two more Yongle-marked gold-threaded silk thangkas of the same style and from the same atelier exist in Lhasa: a Vajrabhairava on blue ground in the Potala Palace (fig.17) and another one depicting the same yidam protector on red ground in the Jo bo chapel of the Jokhang. [47]

Fig. 18

Although the Guhyasamaja-Aksobhyavajra silk embroidery from the Potala Palace (no.55) was previously published in colour [48], it is just breathtaking to see the original image and its fascinating bright colourfulness and brilliant stitching freshly preserved with its original fabric border as if it were made yesterday! (fig.18) The thorough written catalogue text (by Bernadette Bröskamp) presents an interesting and convincing iconographic analysis, especially with regard to the two monks in the upper section. While the lama to the left can be quite safely identified by his black hat with the double vajra and by the small Manjushri figure (alluding to the first Ming emperor, who was declared a reincarnation of the wisdom bodhisattva by his successor) as the Fifth Karmapa bDe bzhin gShegs pa (1384-1415), the other “black hat lama” to the right might be more difficult to determine. Since another Karmapa can be ruled out for sheer chronological reasons, it can be only – as rightly suggested in the catalogue – the Tsongkhapa disciple Shakya Yeshe (Shakya Ye shes, 1352-1435), to whom the Yongle emperor had also bestowed a black hat and the title “Son of the Buddha of Western Heaven” and “Great National Preceptor” (daguoshi) at their meeting in 1415. Shakya Yeshe is represented on various other fabric images in succession of his great master as the supreme teacher and great Gelugpa head displaying the dharmacakra mudra. The figure in bhumisparsa and dhyana mudra on the embroidery – with the blue six-armed Mahakala protector of the Yellow School! – would be interpreted as the Gelugpa hierarch second to Tsongkhapa at a time when the latter was still alive. If so, how can the representatives of these different religious traditions be depicted on one and the same thangka, which usually was dedicated and offered to the head or to the principal monastery of a specific school? This unorthodox iconography can be only explained by an “unusual” yet nevertheless very probable function (in view of our usual understanding of these very images!) of this embroidery, as an apparently personal use of the emperor for his own religious needs at the court. As already mentioned, this silken masterpiece must have been commissioned for iconographic reasons during the reign of the Yongle emperor, whose imperial production of elaborate fabric images and refined gilt copper statues was not primarily associated – at least in the earlier years - with one of the three major Tibetan Buddhist schools like later on with the Gelugpa under the Xuande emperor. Thus in correspondence to Ming Chengzu’s political and diplomatic activities, an iconographic syncretism and “ecumenical” approach equally towards the Karmapa Kagyüpa, Sakyapa, and Gelugpa would characterise the brocaded and embroidered silken thangkas produced during his reign. By iconographic and historical evidence the Potala-Guhyasamaja must be dated after Shakya Yeshe’s first visit at the Ming court in 1415/1416 and before the death of Tsongkhapa in 1419.

The style and the distinctive gold-thread technique can be best compared with the two large Yongle-marked embroidered banners in the Lhasa Jokhang (see above for no.53) and with a third thangka of Raktayamari belonging to the same set, which is now in a private collection. [49] Figural proportions and drapery style, the chiaroscuro shading of the body and the ornamental gold-thread “drawing” of the throne-back and nimbus, particularly of the smaller seated figures, are so similar that both the “Jokhang set” and the Potala Guhyasamaja must have been produced in the same imperial atelier at about the same period. This would confirm a date of the Potala embroidery to 1416-1419. The same ornamental design can be also found among the famous gilt metal statues of the Yongle period. A close affinity exists also between the figural and ornamental style of the embroidery and of the wall-paintings (and statues) at Gyantse monastery and castle (ca. 1390-1430s; figural proportions, garment style, jewellery, torana arch and pillars, lotus throne). And obviously the well-documented regular missions from Gyantse to the Ming court and back in the early 15th century had left some cross-cultural artistic traces in Tibetan painting and statuary in China and in Tibeto-Chinese art in Tibet. Not “Nepalese” art was instrumental for the formation of the new “lamaistic” court style under the Yongle emperor, but the “Nepalo-Tibetan” style of the art at Gyantse of around 1400.

Another extraordinary Tibetan style embroidered thangka depicting Kapaladhara-Hevajra comes from the Potala Palace (no.50). By the rich design around the central figure and the decorative entity of image and ornament, the tantric protector has been transformed into a luxurious tapestry of imperial extravagance. The iconographic relation of the Hevajra yidam to the Sakya tradition does not necessarily associate this perfectly preserved banner with the visit of the 32nd Sakya abbot Kun dga’ bKra shis rGyal mtshan at the Ming court in 1413 (in Nanjing and Beijing), but may also refer to Shakya Ye she’s meetings with the Ming emperor in 1415 or in 1434/35, now being entitled by the Xuande emperor (r.1425-1435) as “Jamchen Chöje” (Byams chen Chos rje, “the Dharma King of Great Mercy” Chin.: daci fawang). Two other silken images of Hevajra, one in kesi technique in the Potala Palace and one embroidery in a private collection include the portrait of this principal Gelugpa hierarch, the first successor of Tsongkhapa. [50] However the total lack of any other related deities and monks on the Potala-Hevajra may also indicate the emperor’s private use of the image or, as in the case of the large Cakrasamvara brocade (no.53), another imperial function at the court. If the thangka was ever dedicated to the Gelugpa, this “minimal iconography” would possibly indicate a date of around 1415: At his first meeting with the Yongle emperor in early 1415, Shakya Yeshe was treated with fewer honours than the representatives of the Karmapa and Sakyapa, receiving at that time only the title of a daguoshi, “Great National Preceptor”, and of a “Son of the Buddha of the Western Heaven”. [51] When at the occasion of his second visit at the Ming capital in 1434/35 Jamchen Chöje had obviously managed to bring the Yellow School into the leading position at the imperial court and had received the title of a “Great Compassionate Dharma King” (daci fawang) or Byams chen chos rje as “variation of his title” (E.Sperling), he was showered with presents by the Xuande emperor. It seems that in fact most of the fabric thangkas can be attributed to the reign period of the Xuande emperor (1425-1435), whose promotion for a revival of the costly Yuan silk tapestries is documented by at least 12 preserved major images in kesi and embroidered brocade technique. And due to the now much higher imperial appreciation of the new Gelugpa hierarch his portrait as the supreme dharma teacher was depicted on most of the textile icons made during the Xuande reign. [52]

However, the maximum span to date the Potala Hevajra would be, in my opinion, on historical, iconographic, and stylistic grounds, between 1415, the year of the Yongle emperor’s first encounters with the Sakyapa and Gelugpa representatives, and 1435, when Jamchen Chöje made his second visit to the Ming court. Although a more precise dating remains speculative, stylistic criteria appear to be rather in favour of the Xuande period than of a Yongle reign date, as suggested in the catalogue. The ornamental decoration can be compared with those thangkas, which must be attributed to 1434/35 such as, for example, the two other Hevajra images mentioned above. [53]

More “popular” or at least the much better known Tibetan style art production under the early Ming are the famous “Yongle bronzes”, of which almost 300 still exist (all with reign mark, about 10-20% of them of the Xuande reign period), nearly a hundred of them in Lhasa (mostly in the Potala Palace), approximately 70 in the Beijing museums, and over hundred in public and private collections worldwide. [54] Compared with the fabric thangkas produced between circa 1407 and 1435, it is quite evident that the Yongle emperor’s Tibetan patronage gave priority to the metal statues, while his successor, the Xuande emperor, apparently prefered the silken images. Thus by far most of the early Ming “bronzes” had been sent with Chinese missions to Tibet or were given to Tibetan dignitaries in the years between circa 1405 and 1425. Only very few statues were brought to Tibet under the Xuande emperor and Buddhist sculptures are hardly mentioned as gifts for Tibet in the official accounts of that later period.

Fig. 19a

Fig. 19b

Fig. 19c

Fig. 19d

One of the most beautiful Yongle gilt copper images has been selected for this exhibition: the pensive Avalokiteshvara from the Potala Palace collection (no.37). A visual embodiment of this bodhisattva’s compassion, of the divine and the human, this elegant statue is an unsurpassable masterpiece of refined and perfect craftsmanship. (figs.19a,b,c,d) Only two other images of this type “in royal ease” posture (maharajalila) of a lokanatha (“lord of the universe” or “world protector”) exist. [55] The “pensive mudra” and attitude cannot be traced back to any text source. However, prototypes of a bodhisattva with the elbow resting on the raised knee, the right hand lifted towards the cheek slightly inclined in a gesture of contemplation, and the other hand lying on the foot do exist in Wei and Tang dynasty sculpture. A seal of an unidentifiable Dalai Lama fixed to the figure’s left arm proves that this Avalokitshvara was once most probably the personal meditation object of its worldly manifestation. Much has been written and published on the “Yongle bronzes”, but rarely were their Tibetan archetypes properly identified! That a hundred years earlier Nepalo-Chinese metal images of the Yuan period would have served as models (catalogue text by Juliane Noth) is simply on stylistic grounds unlikely. And even closer Yuan sculptures – in terms of period, location and ornamental systems - like at the Juyong Guan gateway north of Beijing (1342-1345) cannot be regarded as prominent forerunners in style and iconography. Among the few more safely identifiable 14th century Tibetan metal statues (or comparable no longer existing images), which predate the characteristic “Yongle bronzes” and which must have served as their models, is a Green Tara in the Museum der Kulturen at Basel. This statue also shows the specific double-lotus base with the elongated petals, a distinctive feature of the “Yongle bronzes” (G.W.Essen/T.T.Thingo, Die Götter des Himalaya. Buddhistische Kunst Tibets. Die Sammlung Gerd-Wolfgang Essen, München 1989, no.48. For two other 14th century Tibetan images see von Schroeder 2001,op.cit., vol.II, 255 E and 257 A). I hesitate to accept the idea that the facial features and proportions of this statue “correspond completely to the Nepalese style” and thus would indicate a Newari artist working in the imperial ateliers. Where are the Yuan period or Nepalese models for this specific type of the pensive bodhisattva? We must give the imperial ateliers the credit of having created new iconographic and compositional types following in some cases much earlier Chinese(!) models as they have been preserved, for example, by a 10th or 11th century stone sculpture of a pensive Avalokiteshvara in the Musée Guimet at Paris. [56] (fig.20) With very few exceptions, all these images were manufactured probably after Tibetan prototypes in an overall “Nepalo-Tibetan” style – as it characterises a major part of the Tibetan metal statuary during the second half of the 14th century - by top Chinese court artists, who had learned to copy foreign models and transform them into a very distinctive and homogeneous Tibeto-Chinese court style of its own. Was it possible that foreign artists could produce statues in the imperial workshops in their own characteristic “home style” without any correspondence to the rather canonic conventions imposed by the specific formal guidelines of that Tibeto-Chinese art production?

Fig. 20

Fig. 21

Fig. 22

Fig. 23

A few statues with the Yongle or Xuande reign mark exist, whose style does not or only partly corresponds to the usual Tibeto-Chinese artistic canon promoted under those emperors. Provided of course the inscriptions are authentic, these images would represent next to the mainstream of the very homogeneous court style some additional though quite exceptional artistic “traditions” or rather specific ways of manufacture in the imperial workshops:
1) an “almost” pure Yongle style image with some distinctive Nepalo-Tibetan elements (garment style), produced by a Chinese court artist, probably during the very early “formative” phase of the Yongle reign period. [57]
2) a very Nepalo-Tibetan style statue (in proportions, garment style, jewelry, inlaid turquoise stones) with some “Yongle elements” (facial features, lotus petal design, Yongle mark!), produced possibly by a Newar artist at the imperial ateliers, which may have also served as a model for the characteristic “Yongle bronzes”. [58] (fig.21)
3) a pure Newar style image without any Chinese features – except a Xuande reign mark, produced by a Nepalese or Tibetan artist in the imperial workshops (?) or brought there with the inscription added afterwards as a kind of imperial “model mark” (?). [59] (figs.22,23)

With reference to the illustrations of the Yongle-Kanjur (around 1410), which were very probably drawn by artists from Nepal or Tibet, von Schroeder rightly credits craftsmen of those countries as having “played an active part in the development of this new Tibeto-Chinese school” [60] but has not been able to identify safely a single Yongle or Xuande period statue as a work of a Tibetan or Newari artist produced in the imperial ateliers. A very difficult problem, indeed, to which my own contributions here may be regarded more as suggestions than as definitive answers.

The gilt copper image of a female deity no.39 may give an idea of those Nepalo-Tibetan models, whose elegant postures and gestures, the design of the double lotus, and even in a way the facial features must have had a formative influence on the Yongle statues. I cannot recognize among the great bulk of the Yongle and Xuande sculptures a different degree of stylistic sinization as it is stated in the catalogue for the Yongle dPal ldan Lha mo image from the Lhasa museum (no.65), which is not “more Tibetan” or less Chinese than other statues bearing the imperial signature. In this case iconography has been misunderstood as style: figures of wrathful deities in Tibetan art present oftenly greater difficulties for stylistic determination than those, whose posture, garment, and various adornments offer better clues for an art historical chronology.

With no doubt the extensive production of Tibetan style art at the early Ming court was partly motivated by political considerations in order to continue Mongol-Tibetan relations under the Yuan. The catalogue text on the Yongle statues however largely excludes emperor Zhu Di’s strong and – with regard to cultural court politics – very effective personal interest in Tibetan Buddhist religion and art. How Buddhist was this Han-Chinese ruler, whose father had been a Buddhist monk in his young age and whose wife, Empress Xu (d.1407), wrote a sutra on the Buddhist great virtues describing her spiritual communication with the bodhisattva Guanyin, who prophesied that Zhu Di would become the next emperor? No doubt were the production of hundreds of Tibetan style images and the publication of a monumental Tripitaka edition (1420ff) and of the so significant first printing of the Tibetan Canon, known as the “Yongle-Kanjur” and completed in 1410 by his own words in the colophon, more personally than politically motivated: “The merit it brings to us cannot be described in words”. And different from Khubilai Khan and from the Qianlong emperor, the tantric initiations bestowed upon Ming Chengzu (Zhu Di’s posthumous honorific title) did not serve to make him a “sacred King” and cakravartin or a bodhisattva-emperor. [61] No mention is made of his fervent conversion to Tibetan Buddhism. A Buddhist monk, Daoyuan (Yao Guangxiao), was his closest adviser throughout his life. And “no Chinese emperor treated any Buddhist eminences with the same degree of deference, amounting to object adulation”. [62]

Early Chinese Buddhist bronzes like the Shakyamuni figure no.12 from the Potala Palace (dated to the year 473) were no doubt brought to Tibet during the 7th and 8th century, be it with the Tang princesses Wencheng Kongjo (Tib. Mun sheng Kong co) in 641 and Jincheng Kongjo (Kim sheng Kong co) in 710, be it with Chinese masters and missions in the successive years. Unlike Buddhist images from Nepal and India and comparable with the occasional “imports” of 8th and 9th century Kashmir style statues, those Chinese sculptures had no influence on contemporary and later Tibetan art. There are at least another twelve Chinese Northern Wei through Tang dynasty bronzes preserved in the Potala Palace and Jokhang collections and seven statuettes dating to the Tang period in Tashi Lhünpo monastery. [63]

Fig. 24a

Fig. 24b

Fig. 24c

Fig. 24d

Fig. 24e

Among the six metal images of the Yongle era shown in this exhibition, an 82 cm high (58 cm when open) gilt copper lotus mandala of Vajrabhairava (as inscribed in Chinese and Tibetan at the top of the lotus, fig.24a,b,c) from the Lhasa museum (formerly kept in the Potala Palace and published in the catalogue under no.75) was supposed to be shown in the exhibition but was withdrawn for unknown reasons. Instead a Cakrasamvara mandala of the same set was given on loan (not recorded in the catalogue), whose original cover of the lotus bud (when closed) is apparently missing and now has been replaced for the exhibition by the equivalent “umbrella” piece of the wellknown Hevajra mandala from the Potala collection, inscribed “Kye rdo rje” (fig.24e). When preparing the exhibition in 2005, Gregor Verhufen from Bonn University, a member of the organising team, had seen at least two more lotus mandalas of this series in the Potala’s Li ma lha khang (one without the original figure of the central deity), which are most probably identical with those photographed by the reviewer in 1992 (fig.24d), when two more fragmentarily preserved Yongle lotus mandalas were seen at the same place. Thus six additional mandalas can be identified now, or all together nine still existing lotus mandalas of the Potala Yongle reign set, including the Rakta Yamari mandala at Sakya monastery and one which was formerly at Ngor monastery (see G.Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls. Rome 1949, vol.I, fig.86). With regard to its partly Gelugpa-related iconography (Vajrabhairava), these artistic and technical masterpieces may have been donated by the Yongle emperor (reign mark at the base) to one of the Three Great Seats, Ganden, Drepung or Sera, sometime between Shakya Ye she’s first visit at the imperial court in 1415 and 1425. However, one cannot rule out the possibility that it was originally made for a court shrine and only given to Tibet at a later period. These three-dimensional mandala sculptures have no Tibetan models and document beyond their formal and technical perfectness - “made on imperial command” - the highly creative production of Tibetan-Buddhist art under the Yongle reign. To characterise them as “nearly perfect copies” of Indian Pala period lotus mandalas (Amy Heller in her essay, p.88) would clearly underestimate their modified and developed individual form and decoration. The prototypes of this genius ritual object had been designed, though smaller in size and of more simple form, in Pala India during the 11th and 12th century. One of these Indian forerunners was selected for this exhibition (no.74). One would have prefered, however, a more analogous and richly designed Indian lotus mandala with a higher stalk and some figural and ornamental decoration as they exist in the Lhasa Jo khang and elsewhere. [64] Two other Yongle lotus mandalas of exactly of the same size and composition – and of the same workshop – have survived in complete condition: in the Potala Palace (Hevajra) and in Sakya monastery (Raktayamari), here preserved, though almost unvisible, in the southern Phur khang side hall, high up in the shelves for precious statuary. [65] Based on the texts and on iconography there is good reason that these three mandalas and two others still kept in the Potala Palace (without the original stalk, one of them with the Yongle reign mark) once have formed a set of fourteen lotus mandalas.

Less spectacular but not much easier to find than a lotus mandala is a gilt copper Pratiharya-stupa with the Yongle reign mark of the imperial workshops (no.23). Representing a new type of stupa next to the common Tibetan “Kadampa chörten” of the 13th and 14th centuries, it was probably also inspired by Newari models. Yongle stupas are very rare and probably not more than three others of a more simple ungilt type do exist. [66] The catalogue text does not go beyond a brief general description of the stupa in general, though one may understand that the author Niels Gutschow, being more familiar with the Kathmandu Valley, gives priority to a less significant Nepalese chörten (no.25).


Fig. 25a

A special and literally eye-catching attraction of the exhibition are three extraordinary large “Kadampa Chörten” (bKa’ gdams pa mChod rten) from Mindröl Ling monastery (25b). They represent the most common bell-shaped mahaparinirvana stupa type in Tibet, of which hundreds in smaller size are preserved in Tibetan temples (no.24; height: 108, 162, 196 cm). One would have prefered, however, a more detailed catalogue text on this characteristic metal chörten type instead of a largely general description of the Buddhist stupa. A still taller copy of these masterpieces of Tibetan metal casting has survived at sNye thang sGrol ma lha khang (height: 322 cm), the residence where Atisha, the father of the Kadampa school credited with the introduction of the stupa cult in Tibet, spent the last ten years of his life. And it was exactly this type of brass reliquary which, following closely earlier models of the Indian Pala period, was successively called “Kadampa chörten”. With the exception of some 11th or 12th century stupas from India and their early Tibetan copies, which are characterised by more elongated proportions and by a different composition of the main body, all Kadampa stupas were designed in the same way. This does not allow a more precise dating for the great bulk of these reliquaries than to circa 1250-1350. And so far we don’t know until when the stupas of this type were produced. An early date of the Mindröl Ling stupas to the 11th or 12th century as suggested in the catalogue text (by Niels Gutschow) is unlikely; it seems that this very type with its rather “canonical” formal vocabulary did not exist before the 13th century. A date to circa late 13th century or more probably to the 14th is indeed supported by some figural engravings on one of the five other stupas in Mindröl Ling, which is exactly of the same type and style as the three exhibited ones. (fig.25a)

Fig. 25b

Outstanding for its supreme quality among the tantric images is the gilt copper Vajravarahi dakini from the Potala Palace, no.59, probably the ultimate masterpiece of this type. This 15th century image, a grand figural and ornamental tantric highlight of dynamic movement and compositional balance, has been iconographically analysed in all details by Andreas Kretschmar, whose comprehensive texts for many other entries are among the most essential contributions to the exhibition’s catalogue-handbook.

Great masterpieces of religious art are not only the result of individual craftsmanship, but also subject to specific periods in history. Thus the question might be raised (and allowed): w h e n in the history of Tibetan Buddhist art was the iconographic subject and the artistic motif of a dancing dakini represented at its best in the most impressive and inspiring way with regard to the spiritual essence and aesthetic beauty of the image? There can be no doubt that it was during the 14th and 15th century when Nepalese and Tibetan artists produced the most dynamic and elegant statues of these divine sky-wanderers of supernatural power and secret knowledge.


Fig. 26

Another eye-catching masterpiece of the artistically high-ranking selection for the Essen and Berlin exhibition is, in stunning comparison with its early miniature-sized Nepalese counterpart no.33, a 78 cm large gilt copper statue of the thousand-armed and eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara lent by the Norbulingka Palace collection in Lhasa and used as the cover illustration of the catalogue (no.34; fig.26). The thousand arms - eight main arms and the seventeen concentric rows of in fact (!) 992 individual arms make the symbolically countless hands and the unlimited compassion of this all-embracing saviour of mankind, of the “one-ten-headed” (eka dasa mukha) bodhisattva, indeed physically visible! This brilliant and unparalleled image represents later Tibetan artisanry of the 18th century at its very best. I do not however recognize “Sino-Tibetan” characteristics as they are suggested in the catalogue. The drapery style of the dhoti and of the scarf laid around the neck takes up a three-hundred years long Tibetan tradition and cannot be associated with contemporary Tibeto-Chinese motives and influences. For those connoisseurs and scholars whose interest in Buddhist art goes beyond the early periods, the Norbulingka Avalokiteshvara represents one of the most exceptional images in Tibetan art history, both in aesthetics and sheer technical craftsmanship.

Among the later thangkas in the exhibition, two examples may be selected here for their artistic quality and documentary value. The exquisite painted scroll of an unidentified Nyingma yogin from the Potala Palace, possibly a manifestation of Guru Rinpoche seated in a superbly drawn scenery with rocky mountains, waterfalls, and blossoming trees, is one of the finest “sacred landscape paintings” to exist in Tibet (no.44). While its exact iconography still requires further research, the style might be associated here with the New Menri tradition (sMan bris gsar ma) of the 17th century painter Chos dbyings rGya mtsho, whose genius artistry has been described in a Tibetan art manual as “a festival delighting gods and men”. [67] The specific painting style of the landscape and of the figures can be compared with a thangka of Sakya Pandita in the Newark Museum (USA), which belongs into the same artistic context and may date to the late 17th or to the early 18th century. [68]

A painted scroll depicting Tashi Lhünpo monastery (no.84) belongs to the type of dKar chag thang ka, a visual pilgrim’s guide to the foremost holy places inTibet. The three red-coloured buildings with the golden roofs are wrongly identified in the catalogue text. Correct is, from right to left: mausoleum of the First Panchen Lama Chos kyi rGyal mtshan (1570-1662), of the Second Panchen Lama bLo bzang Ye shes (1663-1737), and of the Third Panchen Lama bLo bzang dPal ldan Ye shes (1738-1780). Thus the painting must date to the period of the Fourth Panchen Lama bLo bzang bsTan pa’i Nyi ma (1782-1853), which means sometime before 1853, when the successive later tomb buildings of the Fourth, Fifth (d.1882), Sixth (d.1937) and Seventh Panchen Lama (d.1989) and the tall shrine for the giant Maitreya statue from 1916 did not yet exist in the western section. The enclosed palace complex on the lower part of the painting appears to be the earliest representation of the former Panchen’s summer residence (now ruined), which was replaced by a new residential building for the late Seventh Panchen Lama in the 1950s. The grand Shigatse dzong of the 17th century to the right, once the most impressive governmental fortress in Tibet and completely destroyed during the “Cultural Revolution”, is presently under complete reconstruction (October 2006).

The five mandalas shown in the exhibition (no.68, 72, 73, 76, 78) are clearly below the high quality standard of many other objects. Admittedly only very few of the much appreciated earlier Sakya and Ngor style paintings have survived in Tibet (though no longer in ritual use), while by far most of the important pre-16th century mandala thangkas are now in western public and private collections. However at least two exceptional 15th and 16th century Kalacakra mandalas of that tradition are preserved in the Potala Palace and in the Lhasa Tibet Museum. And many fine mandala paintings of the 17th through 19th centuries are kept in the Potala Palace, which were published only recently. [69] The only remarkable painting in the exhibition is an 18th century Kalacakra mandala of the Sakya tradition (Potala Palace, no.76) with lovely sceneries depicting the Shambhala kings and the transmission by an (unidentified) Sakya hierarch and his lineage predecessors.

An iconographic rarity with an interesting historical identity and provenance is a thangka illustrating 292 “calendar deities” (with their inscribed names) associated with the different months and days according to the Kalacakra mandala (no.77). Together with a second image of the same subject, this unique cultural treasure is preserved in Shalu monastery, for whose hermitage community Ri phug it was painted around or soon after 1568 and dedicated to the 15th Shalu abbot mKhyen brtse dBang phyung (1524-1568) as we can read in the inscription on the back. What might have been regarded as a curiosity in subject and form and may be overlooked from an art historian’s eye-view in terms of artistic quality and aesthetic attractiveness, was luckily realised and selected by the organisers and thoroughfully analysed in the catalogue by Gregor Verhufen. This unusual painting shown and published here for the first time makes an important addition to the iconography and cultural history of the Kalacakra Tantra.

Whether a whole room in the museum displaying six medical thangkas of a 20th century replica set and eight statues of the Medicine Buddha and 29 pages in the catalogue dedicated to Tibetan medicine would necessarily be part of an exhibition with special focus on highranking Tibetan religious art might be disputable. And do over 95% of the catalogue buyers need and read such a detailed monographic study when appropriate books for advanced interest are available? As a chapter of Tibetan cultural history and of a still existing para-medicinal healing system and practice, it could well be a challenge for exciting exhibition didactics and presentation with a greater variety of related objects and documentation. However medical science has been presented in the Villa Hügel museum as “art” within a predominantly aesthetic context and thus came out quite boring. An hommage à la mode since the medical wonders of the Himalayas are currently held in “alternative” esteem, far away from its socio-religious and spiritual basis and context. The lengthy catalogue text by Petra Maurer does not mention at all (except in a brief end-note on p.618) what should be regarded as a priority question in this exhibition: are there any paintings of the original late 17th century set still preserved? What about the historical identity of these 20th century replicas lent by the Lhasa museum? A few additions and comments may fill the gaps. The original series of 79 (not “77”) thangkas was painted under the supervision of Regent (Sangye Gyatso Sangs rgyas rGya mtsho, 1653-1705) between 1687 and 1703 in order to illustrate the medical teachings according to the standard work of the Four Tantras (rGyud bzhi) and it’s commentary, the Blue Beryll (Vaidurya sngon po). 60 paintings of this set were completed in 1688, the year of the publication of the Blue Lapis Lazuli [70], and the other 19 paintings were added in 1703. When in 1916 the new Mentsikhang (sMan rtsis khang) was built, 31 of the original thangkas existed and still do. The other 48 missing images were repainted in 1923. Three complete sets exist in the modern Mentsikhang (including the 31 original paintings), in the Tibet Museum in Lhasa, and in the museum at Ulan Ude (Burjatia). Replica sets are known to have been copied for teaching purposes in 1918 and 1933. This vast number of repaintings – not regarding any eventual further copies – makes the chronological identification of all these thangkas quite difficult. Today altogether 130 medical paintings exist in the Lhasa Mentsikhang and 164 in the Tibet Museum. Very little is known about their practical use. According to some historical Tibetan texts the paintings were shown and explained in the medical school monastery on the lCags po ri every year during the summer vacation period for seven days. [71]

37 ritual objects (catalogue entries) were selected in order to illustrate the various other furnishings of a Tibetan temple, all provided with highly informative texts about their respective rituals and textual sources, mainly written by Andreas Kretschmar and Geshe Pema Tsering.

Two offering lamps (“butter lamps”, mchod me) are especially interesting for their inscriptions and provenance. No.104 from the Potala Palace, of pure gold and 33 cm in height, was donated by the Regent ad interim Ngag dbang ‘Jam dpal bde legs rGya mtsho (1723-1777), better known as Demo Tulku (r.1757-1777), on behalf of the Lhasa government for the tomb stupa of the Seventh Dalai Lama. No.105 from the Norbulingka Palace properties, of silver and 31 cm in height, was presented in 1897 “to the great leader of this (Samsara) world”, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.

Fig. 27a

An extraordinarily precious item is the 77 cm long khatvanga iron staff from the Potala Palace, which is underestimated in its artistic and historical value and not properly attributed in the catalogue (no.117; figs.27a,b). The octagonal shaft with the fine scroll work ornament in damascened technique of gold and silver inlays, which became known in Yuan dynasty China from the Islamic world, recalls several comparable ritual implements in type, style, and technique made at the early Ming court under the Yongle and Xuande emperors, all great masterpieces of Tibetan-Buddhist ritual art objects, a so far hardly researched field, which would deserve a proper documentation. [72] It appears to be the only Ming khatvanga with a complete Vajra at the top, while the few other existing objects of a similar style have this emblem split off into an upper and a lower part at both ends of the staff.

An unreadable inscription in ‘Phags pa characters may raise the question whether all these “Tibeto-Chinese” ritual objects were solely manufactured at the imperial ateliers in China as generally believed or also produced “on imperial command” and copied in the famous metalwork centers like Derge in eastern Tibet, where, far away from the sophisticated and intellectual court style milieu, such inscriptions might have been occasionally misunderstood. [73] There can be, however, no doubt that the Potala Khatvanga, probably the best and the largest to exist, was manufactured in or for the imperial workshops in the early 15th century, very likely during the reign of Ming Chengzu (1403-1424). According to an oral tradition at Tsurphu monastery, the Fifth Karmapa is said to have received six khatvangas from Ming Chengzu at the time of his visit at the court in Nanjing. According to Nik Douglas, the present Karmapa believes that the Khatvanga (with a Yongle reign mark) in the British Museum is one of this group (I thank for this information John Clarke, London).


Fig. 27b

Recent publications on Tibetan tsha tsha votif clay tablets have documented a wealth of so far unknown material, especially of the early periods, predominantly from Pala India and Kashmirian Western Tibet. [74] The iconographic and stylistic peculiarities of these newly discovered and generally underestimated miniature sculptures still await further research for the history of Buddhist art in Tibet. Many of them were found at Tholing and beyond, the monastic and political center of the early Gu ge Kingdom in the 11th and 12th century. And it is to this “Kashmirian period” and area of Tibet’s religious and artistic history that four of the five exhibited tablets of this portable ars multiplicata have to be attributed (nos.109-112: “13th-14th century”). A good number of iconographic types of western and central Tibetan statuary have survived only in these “minor arts”. Other questions have remained unanswered so far: how long, for example, were the individual metal molds used for the casting of the clay “prints”? Would 11th century molds still have been served to produce tsha tsha images in the 16th century or later? And consequently how many tablets found and preserved in stupas are in fact much later “editions” of the original cast form, from which such clay prints may have been made? A comprehensive Western language book on this attractive and so richly available material would be overdue indeed!

Less convincing is the selection of eleven mostly secular artefacts within the section “Religious Rulers: Insignia and objects of daily use” (p.427ff.). With the exception of the two golden seals (gser tham) bestowed by the Yongzheng emperor between 1723 and 1735 upon the “All-knowing Vajradhara, the ruler over the highly meritorious Western Spheres, Lord of the entire teachings of the Buddha in this world”, the Seventh Dalai Lama (no.85), and by the Kangxi emperor on the Second Panchen Lama bLo bzang Ye shes (in 1713, no.86), these exhibits appear as a kind of sampler without a proper context. A horse saddle, a single piece of a necklace ga’u, a Korean ceramic bowl brought to Tibet – and described on three full pages in the catalogue -, an inkpot and some writing utensils are rather lost in the exhibition and do not allow some deeper insight into the life and works of the leading hierarchs of Tibet!

The 664 page exhibition catalogue with 438 excellent colour and 17 black-and-white illustrations (by the Chinese photographer Yan Zhongyi) is only available in the clothbound German edition. Text contributions were provided by 25 international scholars – who should have been introduced by a short profile of their scholarly data -, predominantly with regard to the 138 entries (462 pages without endnotes and appendices) written by Andreas Kretschmar, Bernadette Bröskamp, and Gregor Verhufen (Cologne and Bonn Universities) for iconography and rituals, style and art history, and religious history and literature respectively. Many text entries were compiled in a joint venture by two or even three authors, a reasonable concept in order to present a maximum of information and research for each exhibited item. The careful editing was done with much expertise and concern by Andreas and Marit Kretschmar under the editorial management of the leading scientific organisers, Prof. Yeong-hee Lee-Kalisch and her assistant Dr. Juliane Noth, both from Berlin University.

With respect to the scholarly a n d general reader, a satisfying “middle way” was found for the transliteration, transcription, and phonetic spellings of the Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Chinese names and terms. For the endnotes grouped in 29 sections, one would have prefered a slightly easiergoing arrangement to have access to the references more quickly. The 25 page bibliography with separate sections for Tibetan, Sanskrit, and Chinese historical texts and modern publications offers more than a “selection” only and allows a largely complete or at least very comprehensive survey on literary sources and current research related to the exhibited objects and general essays. Selected relevant bibliographical sources are added to the individual text of each entry (missing for nos. 14,53,55,81). An eight page glossary on Buddhist terms and symbols was professionally compiled for “advanced studies” by Andreas Kretschmar. A “Synchronoptical Survey on Tibetan Buddhism, 500-1940 AD” (K.H.Golzius and G.Verhufen) comprises the whole of Asia instead of concentrating on Tibet, India and China.

The sheer physical weight of the four kilogram book goes much beyond what an exhibition catalogue should primarily be: a portable assistance to the visitor when looking at the original artefacts. Nobody will carry around in the exhibition a 662 page heavy volume, which even at home is a challenge for the “general reader” (98% of all visitors?), when he has to go through over half a dozen of pages in order to check a single object. A pleasure for the specialist, a burden for the great “rest” of those who bought this impressive and substantial exhibition handbook? Are seven pages on a modest Vajravarahi painting (no.58) or eight pages on a Vajrakila “black painting” (no.57) – more than Erberto Lo Bue’s excellent and very readable general essay on Tibetan painting was allowed to cover (p.90-95) – appropriate for an exhibition catalogue, which is basically not supposed to be a pure academic publication for a handful of insiders? And would extensive monographic studies with 57 endnotes for an even more specific circle of interested readers make the standard for over 10,000 catalogues buyers such as the most detailed study on the indeed amazing Indian Pala period manuscript no.26? Or 20 pages about the Mahabodhi temple replica and three different types of Tibetan mchod rten, mostly describing the “Stupa in general” instead of the individual type (no.23, p.196-215)? The detailed and nearly “complete” iconographic surveys on Manjushri (no.31) and on the Eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara (no.33) with scholarly excursions into the field of specific rituals are no doubt admirable and brilliant examples of special insight. But when reading and writing for this review only from a purely academic perspective one would have preferred a “normal” catalogue of maximum circa 350 pages a n d , as a separate second volume comparable to the two-volumes “Die Götter des Himalaya” (The Gods of the Himalayas, published in German only, Munich 1989) of the former Gerd-Wolfgang Essen collection of Tibetan art (now Basel, Museum der Kulturen), a scholarly reference book in close connection with the “main volume”.

Quite a few catalogue texts present very precise and informative iconographic descriptions, but nothing about style or technique: nos.16, 17 (with a full biography of the historical Buddha), and 44, 45, 46, 67, 76, no.43 without a word on the appliqué technique no.52 with a purely general text on Hayagriva, nos.54, 62, 66, 81, 83 without any specific reference to the exhibited statue, or no.117 without a proper description of the metal technique. Even exhibits of minor importance are documented on three or four pages such as the Hayagriva statuette no.52, the prayer wheel no.91, or the Kalasha vase no.114. Lengthy paragraphs which are not always a source of great scholarly inspiration or which may well have their place in academic journals like, for example, the middle section of the Mahasiddha text no.41 have “survived” without any critical interference and textual reduction by the “managing editor” of the catalogue. One can well understand the scholarly ambition and temptation of the individual contributor “to write as much and detailed as possible”, however less the “supreme editorial board”, where at a certain point one may have lost control over the extensively growing printed matter.

This generosity towards the authors of the catalogue texts proved some disadvantage to those, who had delivered, mostly later on, the general essays (100 pages of totally 664). Several of them were even shortened, partly in a considerably disproportional way.

In view of the mostly extensive descriptions of each entry, the short “summary” printed in bold type at the beginning is very helpful for a quick overview.

In association with the many thoroughly researched texts on the exhibited artefacts, the iconographical identifications and art historical attributions are largely very precise and correct. So are the datings of each object, to which only a few suggestions may be added here. The gilt copper Guhyasamaja-Aksobhyavajra no.56, “18th century”, must be dated on quite evident stylistic grounds to the late 15th or early 16th century (lotus petal design, garment style, jewelry forms). The Yama no.66, “ca.16th century”, is a characteristic Tibeto-Chinese metal image of the second half of the 15th century (design of the double lotus and jewelry). The copper statue of a Tibetan dharma king no.80, “11th-12th century”, was cast like the similar figure of King Songtsen Gampo (no.81) in the 14th century (see text above), and the votif clay tablets (tsha tsha) from western Tibet nos.109-112, “13th-14th century”, represent in fact the early Kashmir style of that area during the 11th or 12th century.

Twelve introductory essays comprise the following subjects: Fundamentals of Buddhism (A.Kretschmar and Te’u Chen Dragpa, Köln), Drepung – a monastic institution (G.Dreyfus, Williamstown, USA), The Potala – palace and monastery (Paphen, Lhasa), Pilgrimage in Tibet (T. Huber, Berlin), Tibetans on the Silk Road (M.Yaldiz, Berlin), Sacred Scriptures in Tibet (Sonam Wangden, Lhasa), Tantric Rituals – an introduction (U.Bräutigam, Düsseldorf), Mandala – form, function and meaning (C.Luczianits, Wien), Foreign Styles in Tibetan Sculpture (A.Heller, Nyon), Tibetan Painting (E.Lo Bue, Bologna), Tibetan Buddhist Art – donors, sponsors, artisans (H.Stoddard, Paris), Iconometry in Tibetan Buddhist Art (M.Henss, Zürich).

In association with the principal artefacts shown in the Villa Hügel exhibition, thangkas and statues – usually the most popular and attractive objects in Tibetan art – the masterful general survey on Tibetan Buddhist painting by Erberto LoBue is especially noteworthy: not written with the ambition to deliver some “latest research” for an academic paper, but as an introduction for the general reader and as a concise overview for the specialist (p.90-95).

Amy H e l l e r ’s very informative “cultural history” of Buddhist sculpture in Tibet is based on rich material, latest studies, and helpful references to the exhibited objects (p.80-89). In correspondence to the historical geography the earliest inspirations for Tibetan statuary of the 7th through 9th centuries came quite naturally from Central Asia and Nepal. Silverware like the “wine jug” in the Lhasa Jokhang follows so closely foreign designs and figural styles that their origin is still under dispute: made in Tibet after probably Sogdian models or brought from the northern Silk Routes to Tibet? As we know since Roberto Vitali’s publication of the life-size bodhisattvas at Keru Lhakhang to the East of Samye in his “Early Temples in Central Tibet” (1990), these earliest monumental clay statues to have survived in Tibet recall several stylistic elements which can be associated with contemporary images and ornaments at Dunhuang or with the largely lost treasures of Khotan. Was the style of Kashmir ever a “foreign” style in Tibetan sculpture? Obviously this distinctive artistic language had no formative influence on the sculpture and painting in the Central Regions, whereas in western Tibet it represented the indigenous art tradition of “Greater Kashmir” between Srinagar, Gilgit and Tholing, of which a regional “dialect” of its own developed in the course of the 11th and 12th century by local Tibetan ateliers next to artists from Kashmir working now in the easternmost territories (and beyond) of their former cultural realm. Thus one may characterise the earliest figural arts of western Tibet as derivatives of the great centuries-old Kashmirian tradition, which remained the basic aesthetic convention in the whole western Himalayas until the 13th century. [75] The art of Kashmir was basically not a foreign style in the West of “Greater Tibet” but can be seen from an overall view as part of a cultural and artistic entity in space and time.

Nepalese art and artists in early central Tibet are well documented since the 7th and 8th century (Lhasa Jokhang, Samye, etc.). I am, however, reluctant to see as Amy Heller does similar influences at this period in eastern Tibet. The figural style of the Denma Drag rock carvings (dated 816) is in my understanding clearly related to contemporary “Tibeto-Central Asian” images in the Buddhist grottoes along the Silk Road in the northern Chinese-Tibetan borderlands such as Dunhuang (Cave 14) or Yulin. Refering to the Nepal-Tibet connection Heller (p.87) claims that gilt copper images of the western Nepalese Khasa-Malla kingdom would have been sent to Drigung monastery and to the Lhasa Jokhang during the later 13th and in the 14th century. Although this cannot be ruled out, it does not, however, make much sense for three reasons. Firstly, the text “source” quoted by Heller (Blue Annals, p.580, 583f., 607) mentions only some “golden roofs of caityas” apparently donated by the king of Ya tshe and simply “numerous offerings”, but no images. Secondly, the period concerned would be considerably earlier than those Nepalese statues, which in style and quality may represent a 14th century “Khasa Malla” artistic profile, attractive for “export” to Tibet. And finally there were many more and much better 13th and 14th century metal images to be given to Tibet, which were either produced in the Kathmandu Valley and sent to Tibetan commissioners or manufactured by Newari artists in Tibet for Tibetan patrons.

When ancient texts like the dBa’ bzed chronicle describe the art and architecture of Samye monastery (late 8th century) as made in the Indian, Chinese, and Tibetan style, “Indian” refers in fact to Nepal in its analogous interpretation of Indian Pala art, “Chinese” to the northern Silk Road regions, while “Tibetan” seems to stand more for an ideal construct than for an art historical reality.

Amy Heller possibly overestimates Atisha’s role for the transfer of Indian and Nepalese art to western Tibet, which are at those times on their “natural” northbound ways much more influential in southern and central Tibet. She refers to the great Newari specialities such as the elaborate gilt-copper repoussé prabhamandalas, the throneback of an image, which at the early phyi dar period foundations like Shalu, Yemar or Kyangbu were combined with Central Asian elements to a rather ecletic and syncretistic stylistic profile.

To illustrate the Kashmiri and Nepalese connection of Tibetan art Heller includes an exceptional smaller version in silver and gilt brass with copper inlays of the “Three Silver Brothers” (fig.10), a monumental group of the three bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara (center), Manjushri, and Vajrapani at Khojarnath monastery close to the border of western Nepal, which she had published previously and convincingly attributed on historical and stylistic grounds to the local Purang or Guge milieu of around 1220. [76] This hitherto unknown masterpiece combines in a unique way the late art of Kashmir (figural style; compare the wall-paintings in the Sumtseg temple at Alchi) with contemporary Nepalese traditions (throne and torana), two “foreign” styles – as seen from a central Tibetan perspective – which were at that time in the Guge-Purang and Nepal borderlands not foreign at all.

Considering the Nepalo-Tibetan issue, Amy Heller comes once more to the much discussed Fournier-Mahakala of the Musée Guimet (p.86, ill. On p.102) dated by its inscription to 1292 (or 1293?). Since the Tibetan donor A tsar Bag shi had served in ‘Phags pa’s entourage at the Mongol court (but very likely returned to Sakya after the state religious preceptor’s death in 1280), it was believed by some scholars that this 47 cm large stone stele might have been manufactured in the imperial ateliers at Dadu (Beijing), which were supervised by the famous Newari master-artist Anige (A ni ko, 1245-1306). There are, however, no real arguments in favour of a production in Yuan China. Thus Sakya, whose many ancient – and preserved! – art treasures are largely unknown and unresearched until these days, was - in agreement with Amy Heller - with much probability the place where this Mahakala of the Tent was carved. This seems to be supported even by the inscription, as it was already noted by Heather Stoddard in 1985. While the distinctive Newari style of this statue is also emphasized by Heller, the association with the “Anige style” [77] can be only understood in the broader sense of the various Nepalo-Tibetan dialects as they exist – next to pure Newari and “Nepalo-Chinese” styles – in the wall-paintings at Shalu of the late 13th and early 14th century, which reflect quite vaguely the profile of what could have been the Anige style at the Mongol Yuan court alike.

How closely Nepalese and Tibetan styles were integrated into each other is shown in all kind of grades by countless sculptures and paintings in the 14th century. The luxuriant gilt copper statuary of the former stupa decorations at Densathil (fig.11 on p.87) represents the Newar-dominated sculptural style in Tibet between circa 1350 and 1450 in the most extensive way. I cannot see, however, a “Nepalese taste” for a silver image of a lama (dated 1476, fig.13 on.p.88). And overestimated by Heller is also the influence of Pala style models for the Tibeto-Chinese lotus mandalas (no.75), which certainly can be regarded as more creative compositions than just as a “nearly perfect copy of the (Indian) original” (Heller, p.88). To characterise these most sophisticated metalworks as “replicas” (which would be more correct for many Tibeto-Chinese metal images of the 18th century) can be disproved by a proper comparison with the Indian prototypes.

Georg Dreyfus’ contribution on Drepung (founded in 1416, not 1418) gives an exemplary insight to the history and system of Tibetan monastic institutions now and then and thus provides valuable background information for the understanding of the actual origin and function as well as for the iconological and ritual context of Tibetan art (p.25-33).

In a similar way helpful for the reading of Buddhist images and symbols is Uwe B r ä u t i g a m’s introduction into some basic structures of the rituals in tantric Buddhism, a most essential but rather rarely treated subject in books on Tibetan art! (p.62-70)

The well organised essay on the mandalas shown in the exhibition by Christian L u c z i a n i t s allows deep and broad understanding in order to analyze and visualize a mandala, both for general a n d for more advanced interest. Much has been written on this principal meditational image and ritual object and one may argue that when doing a nine page survey one has only the choice to decide either for a general and eventually rather “popular” compilation of well-known characteristics and interpretations, or for a specific problem such as an iconographic or art historical aspect of a so far unresearched individual mandala. Instead the author succeeded in covering by his condensed overview the full range of mandala essentials with some new approach and insight: etymology and definition, composition and geometry, iconography and ritual, form and function, consecration and textual sources, exemplified by some Highest Yoga Tantras, the mandalas of Vajradhatu, Cakrasamvara, Vajrayogini, and Vajrabhairava (p.71-79). [78]

It is common knowledge that in Tibet the written word of the Buddha is held in higher esteem than a Buddhist image. Sacred scriptures are today the most hidden and unexplored treasures in Tibetan monasteries and archives (see above in this review for catalogue no.26). Conservation and investigation of manuscripts and printed books may no doubt lead to further exciting discoveries and will be hopefully among the priorities of the current and future efforts to preserve and document Tibet’s cultural heritage. Accordingly is the contribution to the history and different categories of Buddhist books and textual traditions in Tibet by Sonam W a n g d e n , Vice-director of the Tibet-Museum in Lhasa, not only a must within the context of the exhibition, but also most welcome to encourage future attention, care, and research in Tibet and abroad (p.54-61). In this sense a few additional remarks to Sonam Wangden’s text and illustrations may prove to be helpful. Although my own knowledge in this field is very limited, I do have some doubts about the early dating of several reproduced manuscripts such as fig. 2, 5 and 6. The sutra page of fig. 2 from Tholing monastery can certainly not be dated to the “Yarlung period”, however in comparison with similar illuminated manuscript pages from this area to the 11th or 12th century. To identify a Prajnaparamita text page in dBu med characters as the personal handwriting of King Trisong Detsen (r.755-797) recalls some other very courageously dated scriptures in the Lhasa museum. [79] Another important treasure in the Tibet Museum attributed to the “Yarlung period”, a Sanskrit text collection written in Sarada script on birch-bark (shing stag pa’i shun pags) and bound as a Western style book (15,6x15,3cm; fig.5 on p.59), was identified only recently by the Japanese scholar Kazuhiro Kawasaki as having been copied in Kashmir during the reign of King Anantadeva (r. 1028-1063) and dated according to the colophon to 1059. Its 27 tantric Buddhist texts are dedicated to rituals and commentaries, especially of the Jnanapada school, one of the two major traditions for the interpretation of the Guhyasamaja tantra. [80]

Another Tibetan expert from Lhasa, Mr. P a p h e n of the Potala administration, was invited to present his experience and ideas – so to speak on his own behalf – about the Potala Palace. It is very much appreciated that local scholars contribute to such a high-ranking exhibition abroad, even when their opinions do not always correspond to other research in the field. Paphen’s claim that King Songtsen Gampo had built on top of the dMar po ri a monumental royal palace (sKu mkhar pho brang) with “thousand rooms and three enclosure walls” takes up a well-known and longstanding legendary tradition, which has become “history” and thus was accepted as fact even in scholarly publications. [81] Although new claims were made in the years following the comprehensive building renovation of 1989-1994, theories of several extensive tower constructions on the dMar po ri hill during the early sPu rgyal period must remain speculative and without definitive archaeological evidence. And even if it cannot be completely ruled out that some minor fortified building structures (rtse mkhar) did exist on the summit of the Red Hill next to an early image shrine for the Arya Avalokiteshvara in the 7th and 8th century, the hypothesis of a major “Proto-Potala Palace” must be regarded as a myth. This includes also some recently discovered wall-paintings in the well-known Meditation Cave of the Religious King (Chos rgyal sGru phug), for which a “seventh century” date was already forwarded by the restoration team in the 1990s despite their much later style. [82] Like the famous royal statues in the same sanctuary these murals, now again completely covered by later furnishings, were executed in a slightly archaistic style when this chapel was reconstructed as an artificial cave of Avalokiteshvara’s sacred abode on Mount Potalaka in 1645.

To write about “Tibetans on the Silk Route” from a Central Asian perspective is apparently more difficult than from a Lhasa eye-view and experience. And this first of all for pure reasons of chronology and cultural transfer is seen – or unseen – in the contribution by Marianne Y a l d i z , former director of the Museum of Indian Art in Berlin and a wellknown specialist on Silk Road art (p.48-53). With the above title as guideline one would have expected a survey on the Tibetan influences in the Buddhist centers from Khotan to Karakhoto from the 8th to the 14th century, and prefered a more systematic overview of the cross-cultural connections between Tibet and these international trade and pilgrimage routes. Why not “Tibet and Central Asia” and presenting a greater variety of the artistic interrelations in the sense of “from Tibet to Dunhuang and back”?

Several details of the catalogue text should be reconsidered. By including Kashmir into the “Greater Silk Road” areas the author claims that a “greater number of sculptures were made in Kashmir for Tibetan monasteries”, a statement, for which no evidence at all exists in view of central Tibet and, with a few exceptions, also for most of western Tibet. While early Kashmir style images like no.13 may have been brought by the Tibetans during their military missions to the far West back to the Central Regions as tribute or booty (at a time when major monasteries had not yet been established), statues of later periods were usually produced by Kashmir artists or in Western Tibet under the guidance of their new patrons and sponsors. Instead of presenting specific sites and works of art in order to illustrate the various contacts between the Tibetans and the Silk Road, Yaldiz considers an earlier speculative hypothesis (by Kira Samosyuk) of Tibetan artists working in the Turfan area and beyond during the 11th and 12th century by comparing some painted haloes of a “radiating” design at Shalu monastery (14th century) with the 500 years earlier Bezeklik murals, but finally has to accept that it is the other way round. Influences from Central Asia can be recognized, for example, in early Tibetan metalware or in Tibetan temples such as the Jokhang, and Keru Lhakhang, or at Yemar and Drathang. These cultural relics alone or the excavations at Dulan in Northern Tibet (see Amy Heller’s essay, p.80ff.) as well as the Tibetan style murals at Dunhuang or the Tibetan silk banners from the same place – the only traces of Tibetan art besides the later painting tradition in the Tangut Xi Xia Kingdom – would provide some concrete material to document and illustrate a chapter on “Tibet and the Silk Road”.

The central image of the Buddha at Keru Lhakhang (not “Kwachu” as misunderstood already by Roberto Vitali; p.51) can hardly be characterized as “Khotanese” since the present statue dates, unlike the 8th century bodhisattva statues in the same shrine, only to the 15th century.

The five illustrations, well-known from many Silk Road publications, do not refer to any specific “Tibetan connection” in Central Asia or Central Asian traces in Tibet.

Heather S t o d d a r d gives in her essay on “The Artists and their Patrons in Tibet” (p.96-104) much insight into a rather rarely treated subject, presented here within a broad range of Tibetan cultural history from the 7th to the 19th century. Donating and commissioning, producing and consecrating, worshipping and restoring Buddhist temples and images raises various questions of Tibet’s “social history of art and religion”. Which has been the role of the donors and patrons, of lamas and laymen, of the artists and their sponsors, of the monasteries and of the sangha? And how can their interactions be described? What are the motivations to have a statue made or a shrine built? It is the wish to accumulate religious merit and good karma, to insure a positive rebirth, to overcome physical and mental obstacles, to gain health and prosperity, to avoid negative thinking, to honour a lama or a distinctive person, or – under specific historical circumstances – to sanctify a wordly sovereign as a divine ruler and sacred king? All these personal, socio-religious, ritual, economical, and political aspects are literally the vast background of Tibetan-Buddhist art and include probably more than in any other religious culture a considerable potential of psychotherapeutic functions and effects. Tibetan texts may offer a great deal of source material in this field, to which more proper attention should be given. Heather Stoddard quotes one of them in some details about donations and offerings, rituals, and restorations recorded by the Nyingma yogin Shabkar Tsogdrug Rangdröl (Zhabs dkar Tshogs drug Rang grol, 1781-1851) at Ding ri rdzong in southern Tibet. For many other monuments and cultural relics these interactions and interrelations between donor and artist, believer and benefactor, or priest and patron (mchod yon) are still unknown. And even the scholarly author surprisingly takes legend for history when it comes to the palladium of Tibet, the Jo bo Shakyamuni in the Lhasa Jo khang: “in fact an image, which came by sea from India [to China] and was brought as part of Wencheng’s dowry” (p.99). And reading this stimulating contribution one may suggest some further studies in Tibetan texts on “the artist and his theological adviser in iconography and ritual”.

There are basically similar motives for donating a Buddhist image and for making “Pilgrimages in Tibet”, a subject discussed by Toni Huber, Professor for Tibetan studies at Humboldt University, Berlin (p.41-47): to achieve religious merit by visiting holy places and sacred spaces such as mountains and hermitages of gods and saints, participating in religious ceremonies, worshipping a specific image of mythical or historical importance, or meeting an enlightened master (or his mortal remains and ritual objects) to get his blessings. Thus the pilgrim experiences by this popular practice, as Toni Huber says, the divine presence and vital energy of the sacred site or holy person, chinlab (byin rlabs), which transforms body and mind. Tibetans would use two principal terms for doing pilgrimage, whose practical and linguistic forms are based on Indian traditions: nekhor (gnas ‘khor, Sanskr. pradaksina), “to circumambulate [around a sacred place or image]”, and nejal (gnas mjal, Sanskr. darsana), “to meet” (encounter or see) the sacred.

My own contribution “Iconometry in Tibetan Buddhist Art” (p.105-113) is supposed to give an introduction to some basic theoretical concepts and practical techniques of Tibetan art by describing and interpreting the metaphysical and aesthetic guidelines of the art “how to make an image of the Buddha”. Iconometry (chag tshad) can be regarded as the central grammar of Tibetan art in order to establish the perfect form as a standard for the perfectness of mind and for the representation of the perfect Buddha nature. Respecting measures and proportions as the “Characteristic Features of an Image”, Pratimamana laksananama, the title of an early iconometric Indian text, is to generate visual dharma. Only then can the sacred painting or statue be ritually alive and effective.

Other Indian sources are the famous Citralaksana, also a non-Buddhist “Treatise of the Characteristics and Origins of the Figural Arts”, and two Buddhist texts such as the Dasatala nyagrodha parimandala buddhapratima laksana nama and the Sambuddha bhasita pratima laksana vivarana nama, which had been already part of the early Sanskrit Mahayana tantras before they were translated into Tibetan (the only versions to exist) during the 12th and 13th century.

What do we know about the translator of the Tibetan text? In his extensive commentary to the Chinese edition of the “Buddhist Canon of Iconometry” (Zhaoxiang liangdu jing, 1742), as the Tibetan translation of the short Pratima laksana iconometric sutra was called in a “simplified” version of the Tanjur, the eminent Mongolian scholar and translator Gönpokyab (mGon po skyabs, Chin. Gongbu chabu, ca. 1669-1750) mentions that the original Tibetan text was compiled from the Sanskrit “by the monk of the Western Paradise, Dharmadara, and by Dragpa Gyaltsen (Grags pa rGyal mtshan) from Yarlung, and translated in Gungthang township”. [83] How can these two translators from the Sanskrit into Tibetan be identified? While the Indian master Dharmadara is otherwise only known by a translated treatise on physiognomy in the Tanjur, the Tibetan Dragpa Gyaltsen may by associated with three different persons of this name, who were active around 1200, 1300, and 1400 respectively: either with the famous Sakya hierarch rJe btsun Grags pa rGyal mtshan (1147-1216, see no.9 of the catalogue) or with Yar klungs lo tsa ba Grags pa rGyal mtshan of the late 13th to the first half of the 14th century as mentioned in George N.Roerich’s English edition of the Deb ther sngon po (Blue Annals, p.281), or with the Bodongpa abbot Grags pa rGyal mtshan (1352-1405). While the former was suggested without relevant textual sources (Amy Heller, personal communication), there are literary references to identify the second or the third person with the translator of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon. Though having given priority in my essay to Bodong Dragpa Gyaltsen, I may have to reconsider my earlier suggestion that our translator is the Yar klungs lo tsa ba of the Blue Annals and thus was active at around 1300 or during the first half of the 14th century, [84] This would be all the more supported by some other iconometric texts such as the Pratima mana laksana and the Sambuddha bhasita pratima laksana vivarana nama, which were translated by the same Dragpa Gyaltsen and Dharmadara and recorded in Butön’s (Bu ston, 1290-1364) Tanjur catalogue.

Bu tön’s own treatise on the proportions and construction of the Enlightenment Stupa, Byang chub chen po’i mchod rten gyi tshad bzhugs so (Coll. Works, vol. Pha, 14, Delhi 1969, p.554-558), which had been translated into Chinese during his lifetime, was studied only recently by Shen Weirong. Another iconometric manual composed by Butön, which was of great influence a hundred years later on the eminent painter Menla Döndrub (sMan bla don grub), is only recorded in the autobiography of the 18th century scholar-artist Tsültrim Rinchen (Tshul khrims Rin chen, 1697-1774) from eastern Tibet, but has not yet been identified so far. [85]

Further iconometric texts are known for example by the Eighth and Tenth Karmapa (1507-1554, 1604-1674), Pema Karpo (Padma dKar po, 1526-1592), and by the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), which are, however, more written in the style of theoretical treatises on symbolic numerology – based on Indian sources and on the Tantras – than as practical manuals for the artist. A detailed discourse on the proportions in painting and sculpture, the Cha tshad kyi bris dpe dpyod ldan yid gos, was edited by Regent Sangye Gyatso (Sang rgyas rGya mtsho, 1653-1705) when at the time in 1687/1688, this erudite author had completed the Vaidurya g.Ya’sel, a commentary on the traditional sciences as they are described in his “White Lapislazuli” (Vaidurya dkar po, 1685). This so far largely unknown iconometrical handbook mentioned in the sDe srid’s biography of the Sixth Dalai Lama is now preserved in the Archives of the TAR in Lhasa. It has been studied in full detail by Christoph C ü p p e r s , who presented his research recently at the Eleventh IATS Seminar 2006 and at the Third International Conference on Tibetan Archaeology and Art in Beijing in October 2006. [86] According to the painter Lha sa dge bsnyen, one of the artists to execute the murals in the Potala Red Palace during the following years, it had become difficult to consult the old iconometric manuals, whose proportional drawings were often incorrect or not complete, and therefore he proposed to produce a new handbook with the correct measurements. This dPyod ldan yid gsos (short title), which was based on the iconometric concepts established by the famous sMan bla Don grub (Yid bzhin gyi nor bu) and by nGa la gzigs (his treatise on stupas mChod rten gyi thig rtsa), consists of 137 square-sized pages of polished canvas sheets (ca. 40x40 cm, ca. 82x42 cm when unfolded). For the illustrations – probably the earliest iconometric drawings to exist – Sangye Gyatso employed the three master-artists Nor bu rGya mtsho from Lho brag, ‘Jam dbyangs dbang po from Gyantse, and Sangs rgyas Chos grags from Ngam ring. In his study, which will be published as a facsimile edition book with an English and Chinese introduction (and hopefully a Tibetan as well!), Cüppers gives an annotated survey on the section on language and on the proportions of different scripts in the Vaidurya g.Ya’ sel (chapter 202).

Coming back to Gönpokyab’s Chinese translation of the Iconometric Canon and its extensive commentary, this influential text and especially the illustrations must have been composed in close cooperation with the Second lCang skya Hu thug tu Rol pa’i rDo rje (1717-1786), who made a “very detailed revision and proofreading” as stated in his interesting preface. [87]

It seems that this foremost Buddhist tutor and chief art consultant of the Chinese emperor was also the mastermind behind the iconometric drawings in Gönpokyab’s Buddhist Canon, which, at least in the case of some of them, can be traced back to the 756 blockprinted illustrations in the Mongol Kangxi-Kanjur from 1718/1720. [88]

A rare iconometric thangka of the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara in the Lhasa museum discussed in my text (p.110, reproduced on p.91) but not shown in the exhibition was no doubt painted as an instructional guideline for the artists.Little is known in Tibetan art history about the actual technical procedures from the iconometric drawing until the completion of a painted and – even less – of a three-dimensional image. A quite rare example of an “historical” iconometric grid (thig khang) of a Buddha head has been preserved with a giant silk brocade gos sku thangka at Gyantse monastery dating to 1436-1438 (fig.8 on p.113). [89]

The last section of my text on comparative iconometry in Chinese, Japanese, ancient Egyptian, Byzantine, and European Renaissance art has been omitted because of “general space problems”. A serious issue indeed for a 662 pages exhibition catalogue with many lengthy monographic studies on the exhibited objects, in which two or three additional pages on other Eastern and on different Western iconometric concepts – and thus coming back to our own roots and notions - may have served better to the understanding – primarily for the great majority of the Western readers – of these rather complex and complicated artistic theories and practices.

From cult object to art, from temple to museum. This is the usual way of a religious image or artefact now “”exhibited” for secular interest and separated from its former ritual environment. The museum cannot be a copy of an authentic sacred space and context; instead it reflects our own contemporary aesthetic and intellectual perceptions of a foreign culture. It may well create to a certain degree a monastic ambience and atmosphere, however it won’t reproduce “Tibet live” as expected and suggested by some visitors. Thus any critique with regard to the life-size Lamdre lineage statues as being “deprived of their ritual essence and degraded to mere art objects” (as if there would have been much spiritual power and ritual function left of these Sakya masters after the “Cultural Revolution” and since having been shifted to a Nyingmapa monastery!) must go into an odd direction. This does not necessarily mean that an exhibition of religious art should “reduce” the sacred image to an artistic masterpiece, even when it is no more in ritual use. Flowers, candles, and other signs and symbols of devotion may well contribute to provide and to revive its spiritual presence such as when we can look at Buddhist statues in Japanese museums. Even in non-Buddhist Germany one would prefer to have the Seven Offering Bowls (ting phor or chu gtor) in front of the silken Cakrasamvara image filled with holy water, which, thus I have heard, was avoided for security reasons.

Official German statements credit the Tibetan monasteries with having actively shown courtesy and cooperation when lending their treasures for this exhibition. These encouraging background details are possibly associated with rhetoric and goodwill interpretations on the long way from Lhasa to Essen and Berlin. There was no doubt great courtesy and cooperation with the TAR Administrative Bureau of Cultural Relics and their experts in Lhasa and beyond. Some monks of these monasteries are reported to have considered giving their treasures abroad so that the Dalai Lama would be able to see them in the exhibition.

Several esteemed Tibetan scholars now living in Germany were directly involved in this exhibition like Loden Sherab Dagyab Rinpoche and Geshe Pema Tsering (both Bonn University) or provided valuable advice and assistance in loco or at home like Namgyal Gönpo Ronge (Königswinter/Bonn). H.H.Sakya Trizin, throneholder of the Sakya lineage, and his entourage visited the exhibition during their dharma tour in Europe. And as Professor Paul Vogt, director of the Villa Hügel Museum, said in an official statement: “We have been successful to open some doors, which were closed before this exhibition, and we do hope to have paved the way for future cultural encounters in this sense as they are planned in the USA, Japan and Korea. I believe in the possibilities and in the effect of such an active approach and engagement.”

N o t e s

1. See M.Henss, The New Tibet Museum in Lhasa. Orientations, February 2000, p.62-65

2. See M.Rhie/R.Thurman, Wisdom and Compassion. The Sacred Art of Tibet. New York 1991 and 1996 (German ed. 1996); P.Pal (Ed.), Himalayas. An Aesthetic Adventure. Chicago and Berkeley 2003.

3. See The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art (Ed.): Tibet – Treasures from the Roof of the World. Santa Ana 2003, and a review by Terese Tse Bartholomew in: Orientations, October 2003, p.65-67. Trésors du Tibet. Région Autonome du Tibet, Chine. Paris 1987; Tesori del Tibet. Oggeti d’arte dai Monasteri di Lhasa. Milano 1994 (exhibits from public institutions in Lhasa; text by E. Lo Bue).

4. p.122. See Kah-thog Si tu Chos kyi rGya mtsho (1880-1925): Gangs ljongs dbus gtsang gnas bskor lam yig nor bu zla shel gyi se mo do (An Account of a Pilgrimage to Ü-Tsang in the Land of Snows entitled Necklace of Moon Crystal), Palampur 1972, p.156ff.

5. U.von Schroeder, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet. Hongkong 2001, vol.II, p.972ff.: “after 1495”.

6. This Lamdre cycle recalls the wellknown painted Ngor-Sakya lineage series of probably once 34 thangkas (over 20 have survived in Western public and private collections) from Buddha Vajradhara until the 14th Ngor abbot Nam mkha’ dpal bzang (r.until 1595, d.1603) dating to around 1600, of which the first eighteen images are iconographically identical with the Mindröl Ling statues. This is based on an unpublished preliminary list reconstructing this thangka series by David Jackson (1996) and on the identification of the last lama in the set, the 14th Ngor abbot, by Amy Heller in: Himalayas. An Aesthetic Adventure 2003, op.cit., p.295).

7. von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., p.771-791, plate 185 A-B, see for a discussion of his “Zhang zhung arguments” and for some serious doubts about a Buddhist (!) art production in a “Zhang zhung Kingdom of Western Tibet” M.Henss, Review Article on “Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet” by U.von Schroeder(Hongkong 2001, in Oriental Art, no.2/2003 (p.49-60), p.55-56.

8. von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., p.778-791 and p.741-769. On Khyung lung and Zhang zhung see also M.Henss, Notes on Khyung lung in Ancient Zhang zhung, Western Tibet. In: Studies in Sino-Tibetan Art. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Tibetan Archaeology and Art, Beijing, September 3-6, 2004, Beijing 2006, p.1-26.

9. Compare for example Huo Wei/Li Yongxian, The Buddhist Art in Western Tibet. Chengdu 2001, fig.193 (Western Tibet), 195 (Kashmir). See M.Henss, Buddhist Metal Images of Western Tibet, ca.1000-1500 A.D.: Historical Evidence, Stylistic Consideration, and Modern Myths. The Tibet Journal, vol.XXVII, no.3/4, 2002, p.23-82. The Buddha image no.14 was already published in: Jinse Baozang. Xizang lishi wenwu Xuancui, Beijing 2001, p.146f.

10. See P.Pal, Himalayas 2003, op.cit., no.62, 68; Priceless Treasures. Beijing 1999, no.26.

11. See R.Goepper. Alchi. Ladakh’s Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary. The Sumtsek. London 1996.

12. See Rhie/Thurman 1996, op.cit., no.171 (“Central Regions, Tibet”), and for the certainly later Pala style Maitreya at sNye thang M.Henss, Himalayan Metal Images of Five Centuries: Recent Discoveries in Tibet. Orientations, June 1996, fig.20.

13. While the extensive discussion on the “Indian” or “Tibetan” origin of the Green Tara in the Ford Collection (Baltimore) is certainly a delicate issue (although in my opinion being more in favour of an Indian artist), at least a fragmentary 11th century painted scroll of the debating Maitreya and Manjushri found in Tibet must be attributed with much likelihood to an artist from India, see Tibet. Arte e spiritualità, ed. by S.B.Deotto, Milano 1999, plate p.101, and S.Kossak, Pala Painting and the Tibetan Variant of the Pala Style, The Tibet Journal, vol.27, 3/4, 2002, p.6, fig.6.

14. See N.R.Ray, Eastern Indian Bronzes. Delhi 1986, plate 282 and 312.

15. Compare for other metal statues of this type and style D.Welden/J.Casey Singer, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet. Buddhist Art in the Nyingjei Lam Collection. London 1999, pl.11; von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., pls.167, 217-220; Qing Gong Zangchuan Fojiao Zaoxiang (Tibetan Buddhist Sculptures in the Palace Museum), Beijing 2003, pl.83.

16. See for a detailed discussion M.Henss, King Srong btsan sGam po Revisited: The royal statues in the Potala Palace and in the Jokhang at Lhasa. Problems of historical and stylistic evidence. Essays on the International Conference on Tibetan Archaeology and Art, Beijing 2002, Chengdu 2004 (p.128-171), p.132ff.

17. von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., p.940.

18. Compare also for further ca.14th „princely“ statues in the Potala Palace von Schroeder 2001, pl.312 A-C; Henss 2004, op.cit., fig.20.

19. See for other contemporary gilt copper images by Newari artists in Shalu monastery von Schroeder 2001, pls.229 A-C, 230 A-C, 231 A and B.

20. See Kah thog Si tu 1972, op.cit., p.413.

21. See S.K.Pathak, The Album of the Tibetan Art Collections. Patna 1986, pls.5,6, 7,11 (photographed by the Indian scholar R.Sankrityayana on his travels in southern Tibet between 1929 and 1938). According to my knowledge circa 20 painted scrolls of this tathagatha type dating to the 12th and 13th century have survived in public and private collections, not including the later versions of the 14th century.

22. See C.Bautze Picron, Sakyamuni in Eastern India and Tibet from the 11th to the 13th centuries, in: Silk Road Art and Archaeology, vol.4, Kamakura 1995/96, fig.2, 3, 18; P.Pal, Art of the Himalayas. New York 1991, no.81; S.Kossak/J.Casey Singer, Sacred Visions. Early Paintings from Central Tibet. New York 1998, no.27; P.Pal (Ed.), Himalayas 2003, op.cit, no.121; Xizang Yishu (vol.Painting), Shanghai 1991, p.143; Xizang Yishu Jicui (A Selection of Tibetan Art, Taipei 1995, fig.316, all depicting Shakyamuni without crown, and usually flanked by the white Avalokiteshvara and the gold- or yellow coloured bodhisattva Maitreya (or in a few cases by the two disciples of the Buddha), an iconographic standard already at the Bodhgaya Mahabodhi temple in the 7th century (see Xuanzang’s report, S.Beal, ed..)l: Si-Yu-Ku. Buddhist Records of the Western World, London 1884, reprint Delhi 1981, II, p.119), symbolizing compassion (karuna) and friendliness (maitri), are also mentioned in relation with the Mara episode in the Lalitavistara Buddha biography. – See for another 15th century Nepalese painting of this iconographic type P.Pal, Arts of Nepal, vol.II, Leiden 1978, pl.204, and J.Casey Singer, Bodhgaya and Tibet, in: Bodhgaya . The Site for Enlightenment, ed. by J.Leoshko, Bombay 1988, pl.14. – For the “Vajrasanasana tathagata” as described in several sadhanas see Mallmann, Introduction à l’iconographie du Tantrisme Bouddhique, Paris 1975, p.418.

23. J.Huntington, Leaves from the Bodhi Tree. The Art of Pala India (8th-12th century) and its International Legacy. Seattle 1990, p.105f.

24. S.Beal, (Si-Yu-Ki) 1884, op.cit., vol.II, p.121.

25. J.Leoshko, The Vajrasana Buddha, in: Bodhgaya – the site of enlightenment, ed. by Janice Leoshko, Bombay 1988, p.41. Leoshko suggests that the concept of the crowned Buddha is probably emphasizing the connections rather than the distinctions between the historical Buddha Shakyamuni and the notion of Buddhahood as embodied by the “ahistorical” transcendental Buddhas.

26 R.Kaschewsky, Das Leben des lamaistischen Heiligen Tsongkhapa Blo Bzang Grags pa (1357-1419), dargestellt und erläutert anhand seiner Vita “Quellort allen Glückes”, Wiesbaden 1971, p.165.

27 In how far the scenes around the central Mahabodhi Buddha composition may refer to the tradition of the Buddha’s legendary Kalacakra teachings in the Dhanyakataka Stupa (see p.179 and 594, n.101) would deserve a proper iconographic analysis of this interesting thangka.

28 Based on von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., vol.I, p.328-337, according to whom this wooden replica must have been made in order to “serve as a model for the construction of a Mahabodhi-type temple at another location”, a hypothesis, which however would not correspond so well to the fact, that the object was once brought – as a sacred reliquary – to Tibet, though it cannot be ruled out that it was given to the new land of the Buddhist faith only sometime after circa 1200, when there was no more much need and use for keeping such architectural models for new constructions in the heartland of the Buddha and beyond.

29 Precious Deposits, Historical Relics of Tibet, China. Beijing 2000, vol.I, p.108-112; Sha jia si (Sakya Monastery), Beijing 1985, fig.105. The illuminated Pala manuscript was shown to me in 1994.

30 E.Steinkellner, A Tale of Leaves. On Sanskrit Manuscripts in Tibet, their Past and their Future. Eleventh Gonda Lectures 2003, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam 2004, p.30.

31 R.Sankrtyayana, Second Search of Sanskrit Palm-Leaf Manuscripts in Tibet. Journal of the Bihar and Orissa Research Society, vol.XXIII, 1937 (p.1-57), p.4-6. For several illuminated Indian Pala manuscripts photographed in the 1930s in Tibetan monasteries such as Ngor, Narthang and Sakya see S.K. Pathak 1986, op.cit., plates 19-29.

32 See for a drawing after this painting M.Henss, review article of “Sacred Visions”. Early Tibetan Painting” (New York 1998), Oriental Art, 4/1998-1999, fig.1, and fig.2 for a sPu rgyal period painting depicting a standing monk.

33 See Kossak/Casey Singer 1998, op.cit., no.1. Comparable in both 11th century paintings are the proportions of the head, facial features, nimbus, design of the lotus base, and donor figures.

34 Like some other scholars (see for example Bartholomew 2003, p.66f.) Per K.Sorensen, (Rulers on the Celestial Plain. Ecclesiastic and Secular Hegemony in Medieval Tibet. A Study of Tshal Gung- thang. 2 vols. Wien 2007, vol.II, p.353ff.), focusing strongly on the pre- and early Mongol Sakya-Tangut relations in the 12th and 13th centuries and especially on the “Xi Xia Tshal Gung thang connection” during the first half of the 13th century, associates this “patronized tapestry tradition” like the Lama Zhang kesi in the Lhasa museum and some other related fabric images quite definitively and in great detail with the Xi Xia Tangut Kingdom (Tib. Mi nyag), where it would have been manufactured and then “presented to Grags pa rGyal mtshan” between circa 1200 and 1216.

35 See for example a 13th century Acala painting in Kossak/Casey Singer 1998, op.cit., no.22 (“ca.1200), which also would support a later 13th century date for the Acala kesi, whose overall style may hardly predate the painted models.

36 Sorensen 2007, op.cit.: “it is more than likely that the Acala was presented to Grags pa rgyal mtshan as a token of respect in connection with or on the occasion of some consecration ceremonies of Cang ston”.

37 M.Henss, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet. The Central Regions, forthcoming, vol.I, ch.I.9 forthcoming.

38 For this information I have to thank Bernadette Bröskamp.

39 Compare for example a similar design of a later Yuan fabric thangka in the Lhasa museum, Precious Deposits 2000, op.cit., vol.III, no.22.

40 Similar red and blue silk panels “brocaded in flat gilded paper” have been dated to the 13th century (see: J.Simcox, Chinese Textiles, London 1994 Spink and Son Ltd., no.14) or were used also for top and bottom mounts on a 13th century Song kesi of a Buddhist image in the Potala Palace (see: Great Treasury of Chinese Fine Arts, vol.6, Shanghai 1987, pl.193). Another lan dza script panel of this type and technique was carbon-14 “dated” to 1439-1629 (see: Orientations, February 2000, p.35). Yet how problematic and misleading these tests can (!) be, is shown in a professional catalogue of a textile exhibition, where several Tibeto-Chinese silk brocades and kesi weaves were dated a hundred years earlier (or even “with 95% confidence A.D.980-1290”, advertisement Spink and Son Ltd, Orientations, August 1989) than they were in fact produced by iconographic and stylistic evidence (see: Heaven’s Embroidered Cloths. One Thousand Years of Chinese Textiles, Hongkong 1995, no.21-22 h).

41 Sorensen 2007, op.cit.

42 After: Tapestry in the Collection of the National Palace Museum (Taipei), Kyoto 1970, p.16, with a good survey on the kesi technique and it’s history (p.11-17).

43 Su Bai, Yuandai Hangzhou de Zangchuan Fojiao Siyuan Kaogu (On Tibetan Buddhism in Hangzhou in the Yuan dynasty and some related cultural relics), in: Su Bai, Zangchuan Fojiao Siyuan Kaogu (Archaeological Studies on Monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism, Beijing 1996 (p.365-387), p.376f.

44 A reproduction of the Tsethang Yongle Cakrasamvara was already published in the picture album A Survey of Tibet, Lhasa, 1987, and in M.Henss, The Woven Image: Tibeto-Chinese Textile Thangkas of the Yuan and Early Ming Dynasties, Orientations, November 1997, fig.11.

45 Henss 1997, op.cit., fig.9, 10. When these two banners were shown upon my personal request in 1994 I was sadly unable to make detailed photographs and thus could not identify the lamas and their specific lineage in the upper register.

46 See A.Heller, Tibetan Art. Milano 1999, p.88, plates 75, 76.

47 For the blue Vajrabhairava brocade image see: The Potala. Holy Palace in the Snow Land, Beijing 1996, p.151. The Jokhang banner is unpublished.

48 Bod kyi thang ka (Tibetan Thangkas), Beijing 1985, pl.5; Henss 1997, op.cit., fig.12.

49 See Christie’s New York, 2.6.1994, no.225.

50 See for the Hevajra kesi: The Potala Palace 1996, op.cit., p.145. For the private collection Hevajra embroidery see A.Heller, A Yung-Lo Embroidery Thangka: Iconographic and Historical Analysis. Sino-Tibetan Buddhist Art Studies. The Third International Conference on Tibetan Archaeology and Arts, Beijing 2006, Abstract.

51 Ming shilu, ed. Beijing 1974, juan 331, p.8577; E.Sperling, Early Ming Policy toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors adopted a “Divide and Rule” Policy toward Tibet. Phil. Thesis, Indiana University (USA) 1983, p.136ff.

52 See Henss 1997, figs.7,12,15,16,18; The Potala Palace 1996, op.cit., p.145; E.Lo Bue in: Tesori del Tibet, Milano 1994, no.81. While during his first visit at the imperial court in Nanjing (arrival on February 3, 1415) Shakya Yeshe had received the title of a “State Teacher” or “Great National Preceptor” (da guo shi) by the Yongle emperor, the more honorofic title of a “Great Compassionate Dharma King” (daci fawang), of which “Jamchen Chöje” (Byams chen chos rje) is a Tibetan variation (E.Sperling 1983), was only granted on his second visit in Beijing in 1434 by the Xuande emperor. For references see: Ming-shih, juan 331, p.8577, Beijing 1974; G.Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls, Roma 1949, p.253 and note 62; T.W.D.Shakabpa, Tibet. A Political History, New Haven/London 1967, p.84; T.V.Wylie, Lama Tribute in the Ming Dynasty, in: Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, ed. by M.Aris/Aung San Suui Kyi, Delhi 1980, p.107; E.Sperling, The 1413 Ming Embassy to Tsong kha pa and the Arrival of Byams chen Chos rje Shakya Ye shes at the Ming Court. Journal of the Tibet Society, vol.2, 1982, p.107; E.Sperling , Early Ming Policy toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors Adopted a “Divide and Rule” Policy toward Tibet. Phil.Diss. Indiana University, USA, 1983, p.149ff. (in 1415 “Ch’eng tsu did not make Shakya ye shes a fa wang”, but only a “guoshi”); Sera Thekchen Ling, Beijing 1995, introduction; and last but not least the inscriptions on the two wellknown kesi and embroidery portraits of this lama in the Tibet Museum, Lhasa, see Henss 1997, op.cit. (see here note 44), figs. 15,18. With regard to Amy Heller’s research on a comparable Hevajra embroidery in a private collection I can refer here only on my own photographs of this very thangka and on Heller’s presentation of her paper (and on the abstract) at the Third International Conference on Tibetan Art and Archaeology in Beijing, October 2006, but not on the complete text of this paper to be published in the Proceedings of this conference (forthcoming). An attribution of the latter embroidery to the Yongle emperor and thus to 1415 or the years after Shakya Yeshe’s first visit to the imperial court would be confirmed only by the “lower” title of a daguoshi in the inscription on the back (presently unknown to me), while the title “Jamchen Chöje” (Byams chen Chos rje) was only bestowed upon the Sera founder later on and probably not before his second visit at the court in 1434/35, which means by the Xuande emperor (see Sperling 1983, op.cit., p.149ff).

53 The sumptuous ornamental vocabulary of the Potala Hevajra recalls comparable fabric thangkas of the 1434/1435 period such as Henss 1997, fig.7,16,18, or the private collection Hevajra embroidery, which probably belongs for iconographic and stylistic reasons (Byams chen Chos rje in teaching gesture, formal affinity to the Metropolitan Museum, Vajrabhairava) to the late “Xuande group” of circa 1434/1435.

54 See for a brief modern survey on the Yongle and Xuande gilt copper statues also the Sotheby’s catalogue Visions of Enlightenment. The Speelman Collection of Important Early Ming Buddhist Bronzes, Hongkong 7.10.2006, with an introduction by David Weldon and detailed texts for 15 images in English and Chinese. – The figure of nearly 300 still existing Yongle and Xuande style images (with reign mark) is my own estimate. In 2000 I counted in the Potala Li ma lha khang alone at least 60 statues and another ca. 15 in the Lhasa Jo khang. A few more are preserved in the Norbulingka Palace and in the Tibet Museum (Lhasa), and only very few in some monasteries outside Lhasa.

55 See O.Sirén, Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century. London 1925, reedition Bangkok 1998, vol.II, plate 568. For another Chinese Song dynasty “model” see E.D.Saunders. Mudra. A Study of Symbolic Gestures in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture. London/New York 1960, plate XXI and p.130.

56 The other two (not three) images of this pensive Avalokitshvara are in the Norbulingka Palace (or now in the Cultural Relics Bureau at Beijing?) and in the Tuyet Nguyet Collection, Hongkong.

57 Shakyamuni, height 19,5 cm, Christie’s New York 21.3.2001, no.85. Compare for example with a “pure” Yongle style Shakyamuni in the Palace Museum, Beijing. Buddhist Statues of Tibet. The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Qing Palace Museum, vol.60, Beijing/Hongkong 2003, no.212. See also von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., vol.II, 344 C.

58 Vajradhara, height 30 cm, Christie’s Hongkong 1.5.2000, no.753. Compare for example with a “pure” Nepalo-Tibetan gilt-copper Vajradhara with inlaid semi-precious stones in the Jules Speelman Collection, and Sotheby’s New York 21.9.1995, no.55. In addition to group one and two compare some Tibetan copies of the Yongle style images: Essen/Thingo 1989, op.cit., no.35; H.Uhlig, On the Path to Enlightenment. The Berti Aschmann Foundation of Tibetan Art at the Rietberg Museum Zürich. Zürich 1995, no.94; Buddhist Statues of Tibet 2003, op.cit., no.168; von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., vol.II, 344 C (?), which may also belong to our group one since inlaid semi-precious stones – though in fact unusual for Yongle period statues – were used for Nepalese style images already in the Yuan period ateliers in Dadu (Beijing), compare for example a Manjushri image dated 1305, Buddhist Statues of Tibet 2003, op.cit., no.209.

59 Fig. 23: Shakyamuni, height 16 cm, dated 1426, Palace Museum, Beijing. Iconography and Styles. Tibetan Statues in the Palace Museum. Beijing 2002, vol.I., no.70; The twelve(!)-character inscription on this statue “made on March 10, in the first year of the Xuande [reign]” is however not a signature of the imperial workshop! - Fig. 22: Shakyamuni, height 18,5 cm, art trade Switzerland (unpublished). According to Li Jing (Beijing) the inscription of the latter image has been added in the 18th century due to a minor variation of the fourth character from left, which would indicate a Qing dynasty date as it is known for bronze vessels and porcelain.

60 von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., vol.II, p.1246.

61 The Yongle emperor’s private attachment to Tibetan Buddhism is further very impressively documented by the famous “Tsurphu Scroll” painting (datable to 1407) in the Tibet Museum at Lhasa, see Precious Deposits 2000, op.cit., vol.III, no.48, and D.Berger, Miracles in Nanjing: An Imperial Record of the Fifth Karmapa’s Visit to the Chinese Capital. In: Cultural Intersections in Later Chinese Buddhism, ed. by M.Weidner, Honolulu 2001, p.145-169. See also E.H.Sperling 1983, op.cit., passim; Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, Perpetual Happiness. The Ming Emperor Yongle. Seattle 2003, p.143f.

62 J.Watt/D.P.Leidy, Defining Yongle. Imperial Art in Early Fifteenth Century China, New York 2005, p.10.

63 See von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., p.1224-1235; Tibet. Belgrad/Luzern 1981, figs.227-230.

64 See von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., pl.103C and 104C; Precious Deposits 2000, op.cit., vol.II, no.45 (unknown location in Tibet); and for the most similar Pala prototype: Iconography and Styles. Tibetan Statues in the Palace Museum, ed. by the Palace Museum, Beijing 2002, vol.I, no.36.

65 von Schroeder 2001, op.cit., pl.349 B, 351B. – I was able to see two fragmentarily preserved Yongle style lotus mandalas in the Potala Palace on June 16, 2000. For the information that there would have existed originally a set of 14 Yongle lotus mandalas I have to thank Prof. Markus Speidel.

A temptative identification of nine (of originally 14?) lotus mandalas of the “Yongle reign series”:
1. Lhasa, Tibet Museum (formerly Potala Palace): Vajrabhairava; U.von Schroeder 2001, 350 A/B
2. Lhasa, Potala Palace: Hevajra; U.von Schroeder 2001, 351 A/B
3. Sakya monastery: Yamari; U.von Schroeder 2001, 349 B
4. Lhasa, Potala Palace: Cakrasamvara; partly shown in the Museum Villa Hügel exhibition, but not in the catalogue. Unpublished photo by G.Verhufen
5. Lhasa, Potala Palace; photo M.Henss 1992 and G.Verhufen 2005
6. Lhasa, Potala Palace; photo M.Henss 1992
7. Lhasa, Potala Palace (fragment), recorded by M.Henss 2000
8. Lhasa, Potala Palace (fragment), recorded by M.Henss 2000
9. Ngor monastery: unspecified form of Hevajra (no more extant).G.Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls. Rome 1949, vol.I, fig.86. A photograph of the complete mandala exists in the Tucci photographic archives in Rome, Museo Nazionale d’Arte Orientale, no.6105/24.

66 See The Potala 1996, p.115.

67 D.Jackson, A History of Tibetan Painting, Vienna 1996, p.222.

68 See Jackson 1996, op.cit., plate 46.

69 See for over 150 mandala thangkas in the Potala Palace: The Celestial Palace of the Gods of Tantric Vajra Yana, ed. by the Tibetan Administrative Office of the Potala, Beijing 2004.

70 In his biography of the Sixth Dalai Lama Sangye Gyatso mentions that he made 62 medical thangkas illustrating the Vaidurya sngon po (C.Cüppers, sDe srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s vai Duurya g.ya’ sel and the Iconometrical Handbook cha tshad kyi bris dpe dpyod ldan yid gsos. Sino-Tibetan Buddhist Art Studies, Third Intern. Conference on Tibetan Archaeology and Arts, Beijing 2006, Abstracts, p.20).

71 M.Henss, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet, vol.I, chapter 6.2, forthcoming. For further details on the medical Thangkas F.Meyer, Introduction à l’étude d’une série de peintures médicales crée à Lhasa au 17e siècle, in: Tibet. Civilisation et Société, Paris 1990, p.29-58, and F.Meyer in Parfionovitch et al.1992. For the lCags po ri medical school in general: R.Gerl/J.Aschoff, Der Tschagpori in Lhasa. Medizinhochschule und Kloster. Ulm 2005.

72 For several other ritual objects of this early imperial Ming style see R.Thurman/D.Weldon, Sacred Symbols. The Ritual Art of Tibet. New York 1999, nos.62, 63, 64 (with further references) V.Zwalf, Buddhism. Art and Faith. London/New York 1985, p.210, no.307 (British Museum, with Yongle reign mark); Sotheby’s London 10.7.1973, no.45 (with Yongle reign mark; said to come from Tsurphu monastery); advertisement John Eskenazi in Arts of Asia, November 1997; Sotheby’s London 24.4.1997, no.122; Christie’s New York 17.9.1998, no.98; Christie’s New York 23.3.1999, no.108; Christie’s New York 22.3.2000, no.106; Watt/Leidy 2005, op.cit., plate 27 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; inscribed Yongle nian zhi, “made in the Yongle era”), see here also p.75,77; Hanhai Autumn Auction, The Sublime Grandeur of Yongle Imperial Bronzes, Beijing 2006, p.56-71. For the Khatvanga in the British Museum see also the chapter by John Clarke in D.La Rocca (Ed.), Warriors of the Himalayas. Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet. New York 2006, p.27.

73 Compare Watt/Leidy 2005, op.cit., p.77, with reference to a partially illegible Chinese reign mark inscription on a ritual axe in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

74 See especially Zhongguo Zangchuan Fojiao Diashu, vol.4 (A Collection of Tibetan Buddhist Sculpture. Votif Images in Moulded Clay). Beijing 2001; Xizang Minjian Yishu Congshu Tuomo Nisu (Tibetan Folk Art Series. Sculptures), Chongqing 2001.

75 See for the whole problem of Kashmir and western Tibetan statuary M.Henss, Buddhist Metal Images of Western Tibet, ca.1000-1500 A.D.: Historical Evidence, Stylistic Consideration and Modern Myths. The Tibet Journal, vol.XXVII, no.3/4, 2002, p.23-82.

76 Bibliographical reference missing in the catalogue: A.Heller, The Three Silver Brothers. Orientations, April 2003, p.28-34.

77 See M.Henss, Is there any “Anige Style” in Nepalo-Tibetan and Tibeto-Chinese Metal Sculpture of the Sa skya-Yuan Period? Third International Conference on Tibetan Archaeology and Art, Beijing 2006, Abstracts, p.77-83, and in: Palace Museum Journal, no.5, 2007, Beijing, p.51-66 (in Chinese) – I cannot recognize a dragon (Heller) on the lower part of the stele, hower a serpent instead, which may refer to the year 1293. According to H.Stoddard’s translation of the inscription the “statue was completed well in the year of the male water dragon (1292)”, cf. A Stone Sculpture of mGur mGon po, Mahakala of the Tent, dated 1292. Oriental Art, 1985, no.3, p.278-282.

78 Though being of minor importance within this context Luczianits’ (too) early dating of the mandala wall-painting at Nako monastery in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, India (fig.4), to the “early 12th century” would not correspond in my opinion to the Western Tibetan painting styles and to the chronology of the mandalas at Phiyang (Gu ge, ca.1100?) and Alchi (early 13th century).

79 Compare Precious Deposits 2000, op.cit., vol.I, nos.72, 87, 88, 100, 103. Other problematic attribution to the sPu rgyal dynasty period as mentioned by Sonam Wangden would comprise a text collection on the Potala Palace written by Santaraksita and some Kanjur and Tanjur texts written in gold script on indigo-blue paper.

80 Kazuhiro Kawasaki, On a Birch-bark Sanskrit Manuscript Preserved in the Tibet Museum. Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, vol.52, no.2, 2004, p.903-905. I thank Dr. Helmut Eimer for having made this publication available. Another very similar Sanskrit manuscript written on individual birch-bark pages of the “Indo-Tibetan” palm-leaf type found at Tholing monastery in Western Tibet confirms for sheer historical reasons an 11th century date of the Sanskrit book in Lhasa. – A brief comment to note 7 on p.586: the monastery “Drongkhar Chöde” on p.57 of Sonam Wangden’s text is not identical with “Gongkar Chöde” (near Lhasa airport), but located in Lhodrag, northwest of Tsona (Tsome).

81 See for example Mi nyag Chos kyi rGyal mtshan: Srong btsan sgam po’i dus kyi pho brang po ta la’i bzo dbyibs dang chags tshul skor rob tsam dpyad pa (A Fundamental Research on the Potala Palace’s structure during the period of King Songtsen Gampo). Paper presented at the Seventh IATS Seminar, Bloomington/USA 1998 (unpublished). This author’s arguments are based on the bKa’ chems ka khol ma, the famous gter ma text attributed to King Songtsen Gampo and which he regards as authentic. Chos kyi rGyal mtshan follows largely the hypothesis of the early building history of the Potala Palace raised in the course of the extensive restorations in 1989-1994 and published in: Xizang Budala Gong (The Potala Palace of Tibet). Ed.: Potala Restoration Office. 2 vols. Beijing 1996. For a critical discussion of the early history and architecture of the Potala Palace see M.Henss, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet, vol.I, chapter 5.1, forthcoming. – Several (17th century?) cavity-substructures, between one and five metres in width and up to 14 metres deep, were discovered at the Potala in the late 1990s and regarded by Paphen as belonging to the Songtsen Gampo period (p.38).

82 See Xizang Budala Gong 1996, op.cit.,p.47, plate 253. For the problem of the earliest building structures and image cycles on the Potala, especially for the Chos rgyal sGrub phug chapel, see also M.Henss (King Srong btsan sGam po) 2004, op.cit., p.145-149.

83 Gömpojab: Zaoxiang liangdu jing. The Buddhist Canon of Iconometry. With Supplement. A Tibetan-Chinese Translation from about 1742 by mGon po skyabs. Translated and annotated from this Chinese translation into modern English by Cai Jingfeng. Introduction and editing assistance by Michael Henss, Ulm 2000, p.13ff., 84.

84 See n.67, and in the book under review, p.106 and n.16 on p.589. For this identity of the “second” Grags pa rGyal mtshan see also P.Sorensen, 2007, op.cit., vol.II, appendix I, n.11.

85 See Shen Weirong: Studies on the Yuan translation of Bu ston’s Proportional Manual of the Enlightenment Stupa, in: Studies in Sino-Tibetan Buddhist Art. Proceedings of the Second International Conference onTibetan Archaeology and Art, Beijing, September 3-6, 2004, Beijing 2006, p.77-108 (Chinese text with Bu ston’s text in romanized transliteration); Jackson 1996, p.76 and n.167.

86 C.Cüppers: sDe srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s Vaidurya g.ya’ sel and the iconometrical handbook “cha tshad kyi bris dpe dpyod ldan yid gsos”. For a more detailed English abstract of this paper see: Sino-Tibetan Buddhist Art Studies. Third International Conference onTibetan Archaeology and Art, Beijing 2006, Abstracts, p.19-23.

87 See Gömpojab 2000, op.cit., p.35f. For another English translation compare P.Berger, Empire of Emptiness. Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China. Honolulu 2003, p.84ff.

88 Compare Gömpojab 2000, op.cit., ill.p.61, and L.Chandra, Buddhist Iconography of Tibet, Kyoto 1986, vol.I, fig.90, p.20ff. See also Berger 2003, op.cit., p.87-89, claiming that according to the original 18th century text edition the illustrations of the Zaoxiang liangdu jing were “provided as patterns by Rolpay Dorje” (although this reference remains a bit unclear). – On Rolpai Dorje’s role in Buddhist art at the Qing court see M.Henss, Rölpai Dorje – teacher of the Empire. A Profile of the Life and Works of the Second Changkya Huthugtu, 1717-1786, in: Chinese Imperial Patronage. Treasures from Temples and Palaces, vol.II, Asian Art Gallery, London 2005, p.97-109.

89 See M.Henss, Liberation from the Pain of Evil Destinies. The Silken Images (gos sku) of Gyantse Monastery. Proceedings of the Tenth IATS Seminar, Oxford 2003, edited by E.Lo Bue, Leiden 2007, and for the methods and techniques of Tibetan painting in general D.P. and J.A.Jackson, Tibetan Thangka Painting. Methods and Materials. London 1984. | articles